Mud Time

This time of year is a place of in-between-ness, definitely not winter any more but not quite properly spring yet either. We had a bit of snow mid-week, the back side of a blustery wet storm, that I hope will be the last flailing gesture of winter on its way out. I can hope. The ice is out of the pool, and Spouse cleaned the first round of leaves out of it today, and now it is like a great bowl of brown soup waiting for the dirt to settle again.

I ought to be well versed in in-between-ness by now; I have been living in spiritual transition for close to two years at this point. But this is ever-shifting territory, with landmarks that don’t hold still and paths that don’t lead where expected.

I did not expect, exactly, to end up slipping quietly into the back of the small Episcopal church in the next town for a Good Friday afternoon service. Nor am I precisely sure what moved me to go in the first place or what I expected to find when I got there. It is a fact of my spiritual life right now that being not sure about a lot of things while I am doing them is more or less par for the course.

A small group of people gathered in the sparsely furnished sanctuary they share with the local Quaker meeting: high ceiling, wooden pews, stained-glass windows letting in the yellow afternoon light. I wouldn’t recognize an ordinary Episcopal service if I saw one, but I am pretty sure this was not exactly that: it turned out to be a powerful reimagining of the Stations of the Cross in modern language and imagery.

I wish that I could share it with you. But the liturgy was created locally, and its creators are not interested in publishing or distributing it. Which saddens me, because the world aches for so powerful a making of connection. Oh, I could re-create it, or something similar. Some of the ideas I will almost certainly use someday, ideas that I have seen used elsewhere. But though I could with research try to reconstruct the original, it feels terribly wrong of me to contemplate doing so. This thing is not mine to share — I felt that in a visceral way. The closest I can explain is that the feeling reminded me of the times I have visited Pow-wow and entered the dance arena. The arena is sacred space, and I find things there as a guest which are not mine to take elsewhere. So also was this.

It is not a feeling I expected to find in someone else’s church.

I have been sitting disquietly with this for a couple of days, rolling it around, and am not done yet.

I am disquieted in part because I was reminded sharply that we UU’s have a peculiar relationship to the rest of the church — peculiar in that so many people draw the boundary of the church universal with us heretics on the outside of it.  And I am becoming comfortable enough with myself and with my faith identity that I forget I am still other and need to behave accordingly in the wider church world, now that I am no longer invisible.  In learning multiculturalism and anti-oppression work it is impressed upon the student that you don’t just go in and grab other people’s sacred things.  I get that.  Except apparently I don’t — or it never occurred to me that it would also apply to me in the context of the white anglo-American church.   I am surely not the first person to make that mistake, but I hope my clumsy enthusiasm was mostly inoffensive.

What I saw was a sacred thing — a simple vessel but filled with meaning.  I can imagine the power of that liturgy for someone at home in that tradition to be the old, deep, familiar Stations of the Cross lifted out of familiarity by the juxtaposition with modern language and imagery — using their understanding of the Christian story as a spiritual lens through which to view the modern condition.  Deep and powerful and hauntingly beautiful.

But for me, the stranger, deep and powerful and beautiful in another way.  What I found there, so powerful in that quiet dusty room, was the old, deep mystery of the Passion of Christ reframed in language and imagery that resonated profoundly with my modern pagan spiritual self — and I saw or felt a fleeting brush with that mystery, a mystery I never touched and had forgotten existed.

I am not able to reconstruct that liturgy, because to be able do so I would need to comprehend the mystery of the Stations of the Cross, a piece of church tradition that is alien to me and not one I have found yet in a UU setting. Without that deep connection to the source, any such translation I produced would be only a rote copy or a hollow imitation.  It would not have the same power.

Still, I am grateful for the translation, and longing for another glimpse through that particular veil. Perhaps, some day.

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One Response to Mud Time

  1. Andrew Hidas says:

    I wrestle with this issue of cultural/symbol appropriation pretty regularly, because much as I understand the care with which one must approach other traditions, taking too much of a hands-off approach seems to constrain the power and sweep of the imagination. And since I consider all religion to be a product of the human imagination—that’s a positive, not a negative—I want to exercise equal care in not limiting it to my own (relatively) narrow range of tradition and sensibility. I suspect you may have more to say on this matter, Claire. I’ll look forward to it!

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