February 7, 2010

My Sermon: Gifts of the Spirit

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, Mormonism tagged , , , at 6:18 am by Gaia

Last Sunday I gave a sermon in my Mormon congregation. One of the kind of nice things about Mormonism is that there is no clerical class. Lay people run everything, which means that we all — men and women — take turns giving the sermons. Most Mormons do this once every three years or so.

My topic was gifts of the spirit, and I saw it as a chance to talk progressively about Jesus, the divinity within us all, and diversity leading to unity. I gave this talk to about 350 Mormons, and it was very well received, despite my mentioning of my complex relationship with the Church.

Here are some excerpts:

…{Paul tells the Corinthians that} Just as the body needs various limbs and members, so the church needs people with different spiritual gifts, with each person making her own contribution to the welfare of the whole.

When I read these verses, I see Paul telling us that diversity contributes to unity. We all may have different gifts, some people may be strong and others may be weak, but when one of us suffers, no matter how unimportant that person may seem, the whole body of the Christ suffers. We are to care for one another, no matter our differences.

This idea of diversity contributing to unity is meaningful for me personally. I’m not someone who always feels like I fit easily into standard Mormon molds. I have a somewhat complicated relationship to the church, a relationship characterized by faith and doubt and hope and despair. But despite all my weaknesses and all my quirks, I love the idea that there’s a place for me within the body of Christ. That I have something special, something unique to offer. And that when I suffer, in some way, to some degree, my community suffers as well. Because I’m important. Every single one of us is important, Paul tells us. I find that touching.

And later on in my talk:

My own mother is a person who has a divine ability to care. When my father died when I was a baby, she wanted nothing more than to return back to her home town, so she could be near her parents and sister. But she stayed in Southern California because my brother and I were the only grandchildren on my father’s side. After losing their son, she couldn’t bear to move away and take me and my brother away from my father’s parents. So she stayed. For 25 years she stayed, looking after them in their old age until their death. I’ll never forget when Grandpa was in the hospital nearing the end of his life. The nurse came in and announced my mom, saying, Your daughter-in-law is here!. With tears in his eyes Grandpa said, No. My daughter.  This is my daughter,” as he took her hand. He and Grandma had come a long way. As a Presbyterian family, they had initially been a bit worried about their son marrying a Mormon woman. But by the end of their lives, they certainly could see my mom’s gift for loyalty, and loving and caring, and they adored her for it.

And the very end:

I’ve always loved that Hindu greeting Namaste, which means “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” It cuts to the chase. It goes to the heart of who we are – divine children of Heavenly Parents, working together in this constant process of becoming holy. 

January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?

December 4, 2009

A Recovering Catholic?

Posted in Catholic, faith and doubt, Faith Transformations, Family, feminist theology, Spirituality tagged , , , at 7:08 am by Gina Messina

At the end of September my grandfather passed away.  It was a very difficult time for my family.  My grandfather was an amazing person who gave us all so much love and I miss him dearly.  I traveled home to Ohio to celebrate his life and I was honored when my uncle asked if I would participate in the mass by reading a passage from the Book of Wisdom.  In all the years I was a practicing Catholic, I had never participated in a mass in any way.  This would be my very first time, and even though I no longer considered myself a member of the Church, it felt very special to me to have a role in the mass celebrating my grandfather’s life.

It was a beautiful service and I felt a strong connection to my family and to God/dess as I participated in the rituals.  The mass was a great comfort to me.  Although I have claimed to be a “Recovering Catholic,” on that day I had to wonder if this was really true, am I no longer Catholic?  What does it mean to be Catholic?  Do I have to conform to the Vatican rules, or is it true as Rosemary Radford Ruether says that the “Vatican does not equal Catholicism?” 

So many things about my life as a Catholic has been troubling to me and so much of what the Catholic Church claims to be the way of God/dess I believe to be absolutely false.  I am angry at the Catholic Church. I am bitter towards the Catholic Church.  I believe the Catholic Church is abusive.  But can I still be a Catholic?  Can I hold on to that identity?  Can I remain in the Church and struggle against what I believe to be wrong?  Can I fight the fight or will I simply be perpetuating the victimization of women by continuing to participate in what I view as a violent institution that demands the suffering of women? 

While I believed my struggle with these questions had ended and thought my connection to Catholicism was permanently severed, participating in the celebration of my grandfather’s life through a reading at mass propelled me back to my place of questioning.    Am I Catholic?  Was I ever not a Catholic?  Can I make a clean break or will my upbringing and family heritage always keep me in a place of struggle and questioning?  It seems that every time I think I have the answer, I could not be further from it.  I wonder if perhaps living in the question is the answer.  So for now, although I am not sure that I want to call myself a Catholic or a non Catholic, I want to give myself permission to continue to struggle.  Right now living in the question seems to make far more sense than thinking I will ever have the answer.

September 23, 2009

The Prayer of an Unbeliever

Posted in faith and doubt, prayers at 11:43 pm by Gaia

painting by Anju Walters

The Evening Prayer by Anju Walters

Prayers from various religious traditions uplift and expand my being. Ironic since I haven’t prayed regularly for 5 years now. The patterns of my Mormon prayers feel constrained and empty to me at times. I know the fault lies within myself, that there is a way to connect to the divine in the thank-ask pattern I’ve learned since primary.

But I haven’t quite figured out how to make my Mormon prayers click yet. So I turn to the prayers of others.

I was touched by holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s prayer.  In his book Night, he describes his loss of faith as he surveys the bodies of murdered children.  He writes, “Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust….”

In an interview by Krista Tippett, she asks him what happened after that. What happened after he lost his faith forever.

His response: “I went on praying.”

Here is his prayer:

I no longer ask You for either happiness or paradise; all I ask You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

My soul resonates with this prayer. In it I find room for questions and answers, for anger and mystery, for faith and doubt. It is transcendent.