29 September 2008

Searching for the Mother Ship


In the garden, writing. D.E.B. cleaning out the garage, making room for the arrival, tomorrow, of all the stuff I shipped from New York six weeks ago.

387 cubic feet. The metric measurement of my entire life. Of everything I own and hold dear. Five years of living in Manhattan, joy, pain, bliss, sorrow, heartache and achievement, crammed tightly into card-board boxes and bubble wrap. Funnily enough, the D.E.B. and I spent the evening last night watching the Sex and the City movie. I was prepared to be weepy, expecting to be saddened by sights of the Much-Beloved City, but what I had not been prepared for was the striking resonances between Carrie Bradshaw’s fiction and my present reality: the way in which she changes her life to be with Mr. Big, mainly in the form of packing up her life, and giving up her apartment to set up house with him. I knew how she felt as she walked around her empty apartment that one last time…

Life is never without risks, even when we don’t pursue or willingly take them. Another apt adage: change is the only constant.  What I think is also constant is our innate and very human reluctance to change. “I like, what I like; and I want, what I want.”

Sundays are the in some ways the hardest days for me here in England. Especially today after seeing the familiar sights of NYC last night. What do I miss? Very specific,  “Sunday” things: Indian Buffet Brunch at Taj, with my best and dearest friend, Christopher (a.k.a., “The Boy Genius Playwright”); my daily gallop around Washington Square Park; and long, lazy Sunday afternoons at my favorite nail salon – God bless Cindy and the girls, Lord knows I never appreciated them enough until now! (Question: Why, oh why, is it completely and utterly impossible to get a decent manicure, pedicure or waxing in this country???!!) But, most of all, I miss the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, where I served as a Chalice Bearer, Acolyte, Reader and Week Day Mass Assistant.  I miss St. Luke’s more than anything else. I feel something very close to actual physical pain when I think of St. Luke’s, and how I cannot be there.

My spiritual history and religious biography are far too complex to outline here, so suffice it to say that this point in my faith journey, I am proudly Episcopalian. I had thought that being here, in England, attending and joining a Church of England (Anglican) parish would be like coming home. Entering the Mother Ship. Not so. Over the past month I have “church shopped” at two of the parishes in and near my village: St. Peter’s at Barford and St. John the Baptist at Wasperton.

Both were filled with kind, warm, friendly, welcoming, earnest people. Both parishes are ancient and stunningly beautiful. First, I tried St. Peter’s. Of course, the Sunday we attended – the D.E.B. came along too, in support – was a christening day. (Never a true gage of any church.) At any rate, I was scandalized. No smoke, no bells, no pomp, no circumstance. No Book of Common Prayer.  That’s right - BCP had been displaced by a new text called Common Worship. I was mortified. Then, two of the choristers left their places to perform a “new hymn” on guitar and bongos... Again, mortified.

In an instant, I became, to my mind, the very image of an old, Episcopalian grande dame dowager, scowling at the modern, new-fangled changes of today, loathing this youthful exuberance of expression. I must just say that I have always, always, ALWAYS loathed that "chinga, ching, ching," happy-clappy, Christian music sound! Even in my brief, Evangelical, “Wouldn’t-you-just-die-without-Amy-Grant” heyday, that jingle-jangly, “Aren’t we hip, cause Kevin brought his guitar to church” sound drove me nuts! I am well aware that liturgically, and perhaps in other ways as well, I would probably have been better suited living in the 19th century.

It is surely no surprise that today’s service at St. John the Baptist at Wasperton was at the opposite extreme. Well, that would be a dramatic twist to my tale, but one that would not be entirely true. Yes, The Book of Common Prayer was the source text for the service, but still no bells or smells. The congregation consisted of 14 faithful souls – counting and including myself, the vicar, the organist and the two mass assistants. I was the youngest person present, by a significant divide. The hymns were somber and sincere; the sermon, earnest and heartfelt. But, I should have known there would be trouble, as at the moment I arrived, I struggled fruitlessly for a good 5-7 minutes just trying to open the heavy, ancient, wooden door to get in.  Ironically, the “trouble” on this occasion was not the presence of too much modernity, (i.e., guitars and bongos), but the complete and utter lack of any modernity at all! 

The sound of my beloved BCP is always a comfort, but in this case, it seemed that we were using the Book of Common Prayer circa 1661! Don’t get me wrong, Shakespeare scholar that I am, I love my thee’s, thou’s, beseech’s and vouchsafes more than the next person, and I relish the fact that when we pray from the BCP, we are praying/speaking in common or “communion” with all the people who have heard or said these words in the present and in centuries past.  I tingle when I think that Shakespeare could have heard the very same words I heard today, as he sat on a Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon.  As an Episcopalian, I’m a part of that continuum of faith. But, here is the rub. Here is where it all came to a screech halt for me: Inclusive language.

“…who came down from Heaven for us, men, and our salvation…”

Instead of actually meditating upon to these great declarations of faith, I found myself counting how many times throughout the service we referred to the entirety of the human race as “man” or “men.” I could feel my blood slowly begin to boil. Where have we gone?  What century are we in again? I always find these sort of moments painfully ironic, because of course, when one actually stops, and takes a look around at the actual congregation – and I guarantee whenever I have done this the result is always the same --  there are always, always, always more women present than men.  ARRGH!

This was not an easy pill to swallow for a girl who is quite used to the heady and steady tide of progress at her much-beloved Manhattan parish -- where she once got into a rather heated debate over the decision some folks had made to start referring to the Holy Spirit as “she.” (My view, briefly: I don’t, at present, see or feel the need to refer to the Holy Spirit as “she.”)  

From all of this, I have surmised that my faith life is far, far, far more complex and complicated than even I had imagined. Tradition or progress? I don’t see the need to choose. I want them both. I want it all. I want the magic and the music. I want tradition, ritual, all the bells and whistles. (Bells, literally; whistles, figuratively.) But, I also want progress and forward-thinking. 

It has just occurred to me that this, my own, private spiritual dilemma and religious "crisis" in its on small way, mirrors what is happening today in the larger Worldwide Anglican Communion, and it’s current, on-going struggle to between tradition and progress. 

I have no answers for the Worldwide Anglican Communion, nor for myself. But I think the crux for me, in trying to find a new spiritual home here in Warwickshire, is deciding whether I’m looking for God, or just searching for St. Luke’s. 


stepfordwifechronicles said...

Coming to this in mid-stream is D.E.B

A Dreamy English Boy?

Damn Excellent Boy?

Dream Excellent Body?

Ha, Ha. I miss New York too chica!

Alycia Smith-Howard, Ph.D. said...

Darling English Boy! :)

Please see "The Reason Why" -