Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Healing Taizé Service

Or A Spiritual Bitchslap from God

This has been an odd week.

I finished reading Philip Gulley's new book, If the Church Were Christian, and loved everything he says about the institution of the church losing sight of the values and message of Jesus. WIN!

Then I started reading this other thing called The Truth in Catholicism, by George Weigel. He purports to explain in non-Catholic terms the church's side of controversies between church and society, explaining why the church's side is right, of course. FAIL. Granted, I'm only in chapter two, but Mr. Weigel is still very much a Catholic writer for a Catholic audience.

On Sunday I went to a non-denominational-ish service of Banana Republic/J.Crew yupsters, with brain-twisting Coldplay-like contemporary Christian music, with ONE reading followed by a 23-minute long sermon on meditation that began with the priest recounting a sad tale of the day he dropped his beloved iPhone and had to buy a Droid, but not before mulling it over for an hour while wandering the mall. Meditation at the temple of materialism? FAIL.

Furthermore, I'm still a bit miffed at my parents because they don't like the conflicts between my conscience and the Vatican. No one should ever have to leave their parents' house in tears for following one's heart.

So I've had a lot of snark built up.

My snarky barriers all came crashing down at a Taizé service at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco last night.

Named after a town in western France, Taizé is an ecumenical, international community founded in 1940 by a Swiss monk, Frère Roger. In the village of Taizé, just south of the line that separated France during World War II, Frère Roger founded a community to shelter refugees fleeing from German-controlled north to Vichy-governed south. Over the years, Taizé has become a major pilgrimage destination. The simplicity of communal prayer there is echoed in Taizé prayer services all over the world. One hallmark of Taizé prayer is the repetitive music, which deepens the directed meditation and reflection. It's very Sufi-like that way.

The theme of last night's Taizé service at MCC was Healing. We each received a song sheet and a piece of yellow ribbon for the directed meditation. Initially, I was mostly impressed by the stained glass windows around the small worship area and in the skylights. The guy behind me also improvised beautiful harmonies to the chants. At the directed meditation, the worship leader had us use the yellow ribbon as a tactile focus for the prayerful fidget, much like one might use a rosary or any other type of prayer beads. He had us think about nurturing moments in our lives, whether we were doing the nurturing or being nurtured, then focusing that nurturing energy into the yellow ribbon. Then he had us think about some time that we nurtured ourselves.

"Crap," I thought. "I haven't done that in a while." Then I slowly cried buckets for the rest of the service.

All this church shopping and reading and exploring and arguing and discussing -- that's not the point. This is the point: nurturing, healing, alleviating suffering. All the rest is details; don't drown in the details; don't sweat the small stuff.

Yeah, I guess I had it coming to me, the cosmic bitchslap of God or the Holy Spirit or whatever handing my spiritually vulnerable ass to me on a plate. I've been focusing on a lot of petty boundaries lately, mostly dogmatic details, yet God's grace transcends all petty boundaries. Heck, I even wrote about it a couple weeks ago!

The spiritual bitchslap reminded me of the time the husband and I went to India. We visited the Ellora Caves, an mind-blowingly impressive collection of Buddhist and Hindu temples hand-chiseled out of the mountainside. It was probably about 40 degrees Celsius, and I was baking to a crisp. I felt miserable. It took all my energy and concentration to put one foot in front of the other to make it to the next cave, only to start the process over again for the next cave. Then we stepped into a vast Buddhist cave where a group of Tibetan Buddhists sat on the floor praying. I don't know if it was the unbearable heat or their communal energy, but I felt tears in my eyes, and I didn't want to leave that peaceful refuge. The simplicity calmed me.

So what have I learned? Well, I can't really ignore a bitchslap from God telling me not to sweat to small stuff. Somehow I have to move on to reconciliation.

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