Waiting in the dark

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For the past year I’ve been in the Episcopal Church, I’ve been waiting for the judgmental hammer to fall, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been burned enough that I still wait in fear for it to happen. Especially right now when I’m seriously discouraged and my relationship with God isn’t as good right now as it has been. But hey at least I’m still talking to God which I wasn’t really doing a year ago in my hurt and disillusionment, so I suppose that is progress.

I’ve had a few things happen this week to discourage me. My car is broken and I don’t understand how I’m supposed to be without a vehicle when I have four kids. I can’t afford a nice used vehicle, I can’t afford to fix this one, and I can’t go anywhere. I haven’t a job because I’ve got no affordable childcare, and the things I’ve done to try to make a living haven’t really worked out for me. I know people who make good money off their blogs but I have been unable to gather more than $5.00 over the course of years I’ve worked on this blog, providing content that it appears at least some people like to read. Nobody is ordering any Avon. My book did make a little bit of money but nobody is buying books anymore. I know other self-published authors making money off theirs. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing wrong that I try the same things that others do but without success. Sometimes I wonder if God wants me living paycheck to paycheck from some weird reason.

Maybe it’s because I need to rely more fully on God, because God is the only reason I’m even getting any kind of money for the kids and I to survive, and maybe I’m ungrateful I don’t know but it make me feel so useless and like I have no value. I don’t know if it’s partly the bipolar that has me discouraged. But I like many others do get discouraged, and it’s those times in the dark where I get a little stronger although I cannot see it at the time and surely can’t see it now. But I know what has happened in other times, and so I keep going, thankful for my beautiful children and the fact that I have a house to live in, although I’m really, really pissed off about the car.

I don’t know that I even have a point to this post apart to paint a picture of what discouragement looks like and to say that for once, people have not been judgmental, they’ve been supportive. I’m not used to that and it makes the discouragement easier when there are people encouraging you rather than berating you. So to those who have been so supportive recently, especially those with whom I disagree with on almost everything, thank-you. The beauty of the Episcopal Church is that we don’t have to agree with each other to fellowship with each other and we all join the same meal at the same table in equality. The rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the tired and the energetic, the sick and the well. Ultimately, no matter what we believe or what we are going through, we all kneel at the same altar, before the same God, and partake of Jesus.

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Why does it matter?

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When I dress goth; I come alive, because it’s who I was designed to be. I’m finally at peace after thirty years about my sexuality realizing that God created me that way because it pleased God to do so and that I was created in God’s own image. It’s a relief to finally know that I’m not an abomination in the sight of God; that rather I was created to be this way because God loved me. So, when people ask me why I feel the need to post about such things; it’s because these are things that I have struggled through, cried many tears over, done much seeking of God about.

I was taught growing up that my sexuality made me an abomination to God and that I wasn’t a Christian if I was bisexual because that was living in unrepentant sin and that unrepentant sinners don’t go to heaven, which in my case meant I was on my way to hell because that was the only other option. I no longer believe in the eternal inferno but I did until just a year or so ago and I was terrified of going there, and terrified of my children going there. I lived my life in constant fear of hell even though I was supposedly “saved” which meant that I had a ticket to heaven. Except that I couldn’t possibly have a ticket to heaven, I was just a fake because I was bisexual and bisexual’s couldn’t enter the kingdom of God.

When I was openly goth as an adult, the church worked hard to get me to tone it down telling me that nothing goth could possibly be right because it was a dark subculture and that dark automatically meant evil. I miserably worked hard to look far more conservative than I was and I kept up conservative appearances for a while but it was hard. I think now that it was far more displeasing to God for me to cover up who I really was in order to try to win favor from others, because that is, in reality, lying.

But anyhow, my point is that these things matter because they have been such huge struggles in my life. These are things about me that are a major part of my spiritual journey and this blog is where I chronicle that spiritual journey and in order for it to be authentic, these are things that I need to write about even if I am the only one who ever reads them. So I’m sorry if you’re one of the people who thinks that you just don’t need to know; the thing is that you are right, you don’t need to know. But I need to write it down for myself in order to be real, because if I can’t be real there’s really no point writing a blog. It’s part of what I appreciate about being Episcopalian (and I’m going to be the real deal soon); the fact that I can be who I was made to be.

Loving My Neighbor

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She knocks on my door and I groan, not wanting to let her in because word on the street is that she’s crazy, and truth be told she is a little strange. I don’t want to spend the time to talk to her, she didn’t even tell me she was driving over here and I figured that if she drove all the way over here that I should humor her. Never mind that Jesus says to love my neighbor as myself, and although she isn’t technically my neighbor, as in, she doesn’t live in my neighborhood, I know that Jesus didn’t mean just my geographical neighbors.

Here’s where being Episcopalian gets real, and can be hard.Just this past Sunday, and the one before that, and the one before that, and, well, you get the picture, I knelt and confessed that I had not loved my neighbors as myself. This coming Sunday I’m going to do the same thing. I intend to love my neighbors as myself, but I don’t. I don’t want to be bothered with the young lady at the door because I feel like I have better things to do than spend some time with a lonely woman created in God’s image. Except that that’s what God wanted me to do at that moment, and I don’t want to.

While I’m answering the door I remember my prayer saying that I am truly sorry and that I humbly repent. If that means anything, it needs to mean something now. I open the door and let the young woman in. I still don’t want to but I remember my promise to repent, and that means that if I’m truly repentant that I’m going to at least give this loving my neighbor thing a good shot.

This isn’t a story with a happily ever after ending, because although I now am aware of my failures in loving my neighbors, I still don’t always do it as much as I try. I still fail at loving my neighbor as myself even though I’m trying to be more mindful to do so. I still dread her knock on my door, but not as much as I used to. I’m willing to give her a little of my time these days, but I’m always relieved when I have something else that I just have to do. Which means I’m trying but I’m not doing that great.

True repentance means trying to do differently the next time. This Episcopal thing can be hard because I say hard things and then have to put action behind my words. But I think that in trying to put action behind my words, it gets me a little closer to what Jesus wants me to do, and brings a little more of the Kingdom of God to earth.

This is my blood, shed for you

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I’ve had people ask me why the Eucharist had such an effect on me; why when I took of the bread and the wine in the Episcopal Church I knew it was the body and blood of Christ because I experienced it. There is a common theme in vampire literature that says the blood is the life, and really it is. “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation” says the person holding the chalice, as I sip. The bread and the wine, the body and the blood, are spiritual food. It’s what keeps me alive. Jesus’ blood flowed out of him when he was whipped and then executed. He died so that I could live.

I’ve done a lot of research lately on vampire literature and blood symbolism for my PhD proposal. When I thought of doing a PhD, I never thought it would be on a subject like this, but really, it makes sense. When I was thirteen and began cutting myself, I somehow knew that blood was powerful and I wanted to bleed. I felt that I could atone for my sins by letting the blood flow, I craved the relief I felt emotionally from causing myself physical pain. I knew deep down that there was something special about blood.

I approach the altar with humility and reverence, kneeling in awe of God and still remembering the time I first met the priest and cursed him out (which is significant because it made me wait longer than I should have to come check out the Episcopal Church and also because it made me feel unworthy to take of communion and yet the priest served it to me anyway), thankful that I can partake of something so incredibly amazing and life changing. I know for some it is an empty ritual, but to me it is full of sacred meaning and I’m thankful that God allows a person like me at the altar to drink of the blood of Christ. It’s an amazing thing.

I no longer need to cut myself to cause my blood to seep out of my body because Jesus’ blood has taken care of my sins when I was baptized. “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation:” for me and for you. I don’t have to bleed myself because Jesus bled. There’s a hymn that meant a lot to me that really helped when I was trying to stop cutting and it goes like this:

“There is a fountain, filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains”. It’s still one of my all time favorite hymns.

Consuming Jesus brought me back to God.

Prayer

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I’ve begun to pray again. It started with just the liturgy in church, so more like a once a week thing. Maybe that’s terrible, but it’s the truth. The little bits I was praying in church began to stir inside me and I wanted to pray when I wasn’t in church also. I don’t say the liturgy if I don’t mean it so I was praying those prayers but those were the only ones I was saying. The liturgy was the first, the second was when I would dip my fingers in the baptismal font and make the sign of the cross, which is a prayer in and of itself, a physical prayer that I pray with my body as well as my mind. I started making the sign of the cross at other times too, knowing that when I did it I was praying.

Then I started simple with prayer beads and repeating the same prayers over and over, which was useful in helping me to focus on Christ and not what I was thinking about or wanting. It was a new kind of praying for me and it’s been one of the most effective in my personal worship. There’s something about saying “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” rather than give God a list of what I need and want. After that I learned how to pray using just one word or phrase to describe God and to repeat it over and over, such as “merciful God”. Chanting this phrase or just repeating it over and over in my head helps me to center myself which is something I liked about witchcraft and something I’m glad to learn there is a Christian equivalent for.

No longer do I sit on the grass, asking the elements to help me ground myself and my magic. Instead I repeat a phrase about God and then I’m being grounded while thinking about God rather than magic. There are some nights where I sit and color, praying while I do it, creating something beautiful while I pray. Then there are some nights I am very tired and I roll into bed with just a quick prayer, but that doesn’t happen as much as it used to. Sometimes I burn incense. Sometimes I put on my best clothes and put on my makeup and go and kneel down in front of God with my face on the floor praying. One thing I’ve learned in the Episcopal Church is that there are so many different ways to pray and I was missing out on so many of them. Despite what I thought, prayer is more about God than it is about me, just like everything else in the Christian life.

Church Clothes

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When I was attending a large evangelical church with praise bands (nothing wrong with them) that was ultra-modern, I wore what I liked to church.These days, although I respect other people’s feelings and would never tell them how to dress for church, I choose to wear the best that I have. Sometimes I’m tempted to wear something just because it shows off my tattoos, or some other frivolous reason like that, but I try not to do that at church anymore.

The reason that I now wear the best that I have to church is because when I go to church, I’m receiving a sacrament. I’m partaking of a holy meal in community with others and I’m partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That’s a pretty big deal. I wear my best because Jesus gave his everything when he shed his blood and allowed his flesh to be mutilated, so that 2000 years later I could eat and drink so that I would never hunger or thirst again. I don’t understand the people who don’t come to church as often as they can because for me, that holy meal is important, it keeps me growing and nourished which is the designated function of food and drink.

I’m a little eclectic in my clothing style just like I am with everything else, but I still wear the best that I have. I might wear dark (gothic) earrings and jewelry, because God created me with this style, but I still wear the best of all that. I try to care about what I wear to church even when I am depressed. When I’m depressed I tend to not care what I wear and usually that means wearing my worst, but I work really hard not to do that at church, because I want to respect the sacrament that I’m partaking of. It’s part of preparing my heart for worship; the clothing that I wear is part of my worship.

For me I wear my best not only because I respect the sacrament, but also because I’m in awe of it, of the fact that Jesus would allow us to continue to partake of his body and blood to give us spiritual food. When I kneel at the altar rail and cup my hands to receive the sacrament, I’m so thankful that I have the privilege of being able to have it. When I kneel at the altar, I’m on holy ground (which means it’s ok if I’m not wearing my shoes because Moses took his shoes off on holy ground…hahahaha) and I want to make sure I’m dressed appropriately for that holy ground and that holy meal. Partaking of the Eucharist is a gift from God, for me I respect that gift enough to make the effort to wear my best clothes. The Eucharist is sacred, I choose to dress like it is sacred.

Pieces

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On Sunday I entered the church a little discouraged but trying to fake it until I made it, and I was explaining to a woman how I was trying hard to make money although I could not work a traditional job right now. This has made me feel bad about myself and internalize myself as lazy or useless or worthless. I didn’t say any of those things to this woman but God knew how I was feeling and God used her to minister something special to me. During our conversation I told her that I had written a book and was trying to sell it, and that I sell used books on half.com and used items on eBay. I told her that I also sold Avon and that none of these brought in a whole lot of income but they did bring in a little.

I said that it was discouraging how hard I work and how hard I try and don’t really make much money except for a couple of dollars here and there; but that I rely on that small amount once in a while to get by. I was smiling and talking and enjoying the conversation with this woman but inside I was telling myself how horrible and stupid I am to not even have a job. Thinking I wasn’t even worthy to be at church with these people who were smart and not useless like me. But the conversation ended up being amazing, because this woman said something so profound and just what I needed to hear.

She told me: “you’re an artist, us artists piece our lives together”. I realized that what she said was true, and that my life is art that God is making with small pieces of mosaic tiles. Each individual mosaic piece is rough and out of context and doesn’t mean anything on it’s own; but you piece them together in a design and they become a beautiful work of art. I am art, and my life is beautiful and all the tiny pieces are very important.

Another conversation I had with a lady from my church was about flooring, she was telling me that if it was too hard to tile a particular area that I could just smash up the tiles and make a mosaic with them, which was not only a great idea for the floor but a great idea for me too. Yes, I have been shattered, 2013-2014 made sure of that, those years didn’t just kick my ass they shattered me. I was broken and had no idea where to turn and it was so dark that I couldn’t see. I couldn’t even see Jesus, the light of the world because my life was so dark. The pieces that were shattered will never go back the way they were; in fact I don’t think they’re supposed to. Rather than looking neat and orderly and all in line, God has chosen to create a mosaic out of my life instead.

I need to trust that the artist knows what they are doing.

Being (almost) Episcopalian is hard sometimes

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Coming to the Episcopal Church has changed my life completely, and I say that knowing that it’s God who changed my life but it’s also God who shoved me, kicking and screaming, into the Episcopal Church. I didn’t want to cause hurt to my previous faith community and so I stayed longer than I should have. I was walking in disobedience because I knew beyond a doubt what God wanted me to do but it was hard and I didn’t want to even though I was excited about the prospect. I remember realizing that if I stayed where I was, my faith would die completely and that if I wanted to walk with God, I had to walk the path that God had chosen for me.

Sometimes, I have a love-hate relationship with being (almost) Episcopalian, because it is hard. When I go to church and partake in the liturgy and the Eucharist, those privileges come along with some tough ways of worship. When I’ve been hurt or offended by someone, I have to go to church on Sunday and pray that I forgive those who sinned against me just like I’m asking for forgiveness. I promise out loud with everyone else to forgive those who have hurt me. I also kneel and confess my own sins, asking for forgiveness and accepting the absolution from the priest. If I’m going to request forgiveness, I need to give it also, because the weight of my own sins far outweighs the sins people have committed against me. If one of the people in my church has hurt me, I still have to wish them peace, and I’m the kind of person that ain’t going to do it if I’m not going to do it properly; meaning that if I’m going to wish someone peace, I’m damn well going to mean it.

This promising forgiveness is always a tough but needed part of the service for me. I love being (almost) Episcopalian because it gives my faith the depth and meaning that I was looking for and couldn’t find elsewhere. Although many believe that I came to the Episcopal Church merely because I’m a liberal; that’s not entirely true. There were many reasons I came to the Episcopal Church and that was just one of them. One of the other reasons, the big reason, was that I wanted the depth and meaning that I knew it would give to me. Ritual was important to me, but only if the ritual meant something, I wasn’t seeking empty rites which is why I left fundamentalism and eventually evangelicalism (which ended up being two sides of the same coin really).

Being (almost) Episcopalian means making promises to forgive even when I don’t want to. It means actively seeking unity; especially when I’ve been hurt or offended. The big themes so far for me in being (almost) Episcopalian are grace, peace and unity. Walking with God means doing the tough stuff and that means extending forgiveness to those who I’d rather just stay mad at.

Go to Hell

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While fiction is by nature a story that didn’t actually happen, it’s a story we can learn a lot from, just like the stories in the Bible. Some of those probably didn’t actually happen either but they were used to teach people what was right and wrong. This week I have been immersed in “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole, as part of a class on gothic and horror literature. I really enjoyed the book despite not really thinking that I would. One thing throughout the whole book struck me.

Most of the people in the book didn’t even wish for their enemies to go to hell. When they talked about the eternal destinies of their enemies they still wanted God to send their enemies soul to heaven. This is probably as Christian as it gets: when we wish for those who cause us harm to be able to be alive in Christ with us in heaven. It’s part of what Jesus was talking about when he said that stuff about loving our enemies and blessing those who persecute us.

When I broke up with my ex-husband, someone who thought he wasn’t “saved” (as in, hadn’t prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into his heart” said that I should find comfort in the fact that one day he was going to get what was coming to him in hell. Even if I believed hell existed, it was not comforting for me to think about my ex going to hell, no matter how miserable marriage to him was. This was a gentle and kind friend whom I love greatly who said this, and it shocked me and reached down into the very core of who I am and I knew it was wrong. Never should we wish for anyone, all of us humans created in God’s very image, to burn forever in torment just because we don’t like them.

I’m not sure how the idea of any human being frying for eternity can be of any comfort to anybody. Even if there is a hell, we aren’t somehow superior because we are not going there. We’re all humans and God loves us all. I’ve been shocked to realize how many people that I have known and loved have been excited about the thought of somebody ending up in hell. If hell exists, it’s not a pretty place, although I believe our hell happens here on earth, different ones of us with our own private hell that seems like it was meant just for us.

The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation

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Deep within me, even as a teenager, I knew deep down that blood was of huge significance to the Christian faith. I became a Christian quite by accident I suppose at the age of ten when I chose to get baptized because all of my friends were doing it in response to a prayer we had all prayed supposedly asking Jesus into our hearts. Theoretically I knew that the blood of Jesus was the big deal, the thing that actually bought our salvation, but practically I had no idea what on earth that meant.

About three years later, I saw a TV program where a young teenage girl got a razor blade and cut her wrists. I thought this was the best idea that I had come across in a long time and so beginning at age thirteen, I began cutting myself. For me it was about the blood, the drawing of blood when I cut gave me some kind of emotional release. Although this is probably disturbing to many readers, I instinctively licked the blood, and treated it as if it were sacred.

Over the years of my fundamentalist and evangelical life, I partook of communion often, careful to let people know that I wasn’t Catholic, as in, I did not believe that the grape juice in the little shot glasses turned into the blood of Christ. After all, my mother had told us, we weren’t cannibals, and it would be essentially cannibalism to take communion if you believed you were consuming literal flesh and blood. Back then that sounded reasonable and I went along with that thought, although often feeling guilty for the fact that I let my own blood flow and then licked it up. I was a disgusting freak and nobody else needed to ever know.

My all time favorite hymn growing up was “There is a Fountain” although I never really understood why but the words: “there is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Somehow I understood that the blood of Christ was significant, but I wasn’t aware of how.

When I was twenty-nine, God shoved me into the Episcopal Church. I took of communion that first day I visited although I was nervous about it, and realized that I had partaken of the very blood of Christ and his flesh. I had told a friend that I would visit the church but I wasn’t sure I could go along with the bread and the wine being the literal body and blood of Christ thing. But my mind was changed that first time, when I was offered that consecrated bread, the literal body of Christ, from a man who I had offended, and the wine, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

I still don’t know that I understand the full significance of the blood of Christ, but it sure helps to keep my faith nourished when I go to mass every week. I no longer slice my own wrists, making my own body bleed, in an effort to punish myself or make me feel better. I no longer lick blood flowing from my body and treating it as sacred but not understanding why.

The Bible says that the life of the flesh is in the blood. I eat and drink the life of Christ every Sunday. God gave it to us as a gift so