Ash Wednesday Musings
Yesterday found me at Ash Wednesday services at an old parish we belonged to over a decade ago, wondering what direction my family was going as Episcopalians and Christians. The Episcopalians have been laughingly called “The Frozen Chosen” for their unfriendliness and uppity attitudes, and it takes little history digging to see why some self-congratulatory members feel that way. It’s a denomination that’s spawned many a US president, congressman, governor, community leaders and more. Why a thin skinned individual like me became an Episcopalian kind of defies explanation, other than the Methodist Church just didn’t work for me.
So here I sat in a lovely Episcopal church, listening to a priest I admire deliver a homily on Lent, and wondering where my family fits in the cluster of churches in our area, and I felt hopeless. We’re what’s called High Church in that we love traditional hymns, and I’m a Rite One kind of girl. I love Transubstantiation, incense, bells, crossing myself, genuflecting, bowing, the things that would have gotten myself thrown into prison hundreds of years ago. It’s hard to find these Episcopal churches in the suburbs. In the place of High Church, many parishes have tried to attract new members with progressive Christian music, Rite Two, and six different kinds of communion bread.
On the other hand, these liberal Episcopal churches are friendlier and seem to grasp a view of Christ that eludes traditional Frozen Chosen tribe members.
Last year, after several unhappy things happened to my family, we stopped going to church entirely. I won’t go into the reasons, but the best way I can explain my disaffection towards God is that we stopped talking to each other. It was as if I suddenly realized the conversation had become one-sided, and God had walked out of the room. Mentally I kept sitting in that room, thinking perhaps He’d gone to get a cup of tea or a cookie, and would be back soon to pick up the conversation. And waited. And waited. Finally, I got up, embarrassed, having realized He wasn’t coming back anytime soon, and I walked away from organized religion.
Sitting in that sanctuary yesterday, I felt His presence, and a willingness to be with Him, yet knowing there was no perfect meeting place, mentally or physically. I would always find fault with the churches we joined because they’re run by human beings with good and bad days, good and misguided intentions, personalities that did or didn’t suit mine. Nothing would ever be perfect or in tune perfectly to me because the universe has to contain a lot of living things with diverse needs and loves. I am not the center of the universe.
My family seems to be content not to attend church anymore, but childhood didn’t form me that way. Even with God being out of the room, I still feel the need to go to church and try to go through the motions. I wore my ashes from noon on, getting a mixed bag of reactions from people I met. My ashes were dark and strong on my forehead and were stark against my weathered fair skin and hair. Some people reacted with horror, some with recognition, some with frowns, and I even got asked about Lent. How strange it is to talk about forty days of Lent and Christ in the wilderness while feeling so isolated from God. I stumbled before the right words came out. A teaching moment inside my head of what Lent meant to me.
At the end of yesterday, I had no more answers to life than that morning, but a lot more questions.