It takes a lot to be a mystic. In addition to having the ability burned into you at birth, it takes patience and endurance, courage and endurance, flexibility and endurance, and just plain endurance. At times it means suspending all that you’ve grown to accept as reality and expanding the boundaries just a bit further out into the unknown, over the chasm, and plunging into unspeakable discomfort, only to find yourself sitting still and knowing that He is God.
But it doesn’t take that much from the world to keep a mystic going. From almost the beginning of the church, mystics have had a penchant to take themselves away from the world — into monasteries and convents, hermitages and anchorite cells. For me, though, to keep balanced and breathing through it all, I need to go to church.
I was born into an Anglican family, having arrived not that long ago from England. When I asked my grandmother where and when I was baptized, she slammed the door immediately on the conversation by responding, “You weren’t.” And that was that, for the time being, anyway.
Understandably, I was quite confused. I knew that the little prayerbook I held in my hand was a gift from the day that I was confirmed. If I was confirmed, I reasoned, I must have been baptized. Besides, there wasn’t a Sunday or a Holy Day that went unobserved in my family.
I wasn’t baptized?
So, a few months later, I tried again. What’s this you say about me not being baptized, Old Woman? (Of course, I didn’t say out loud the last two words.) Of course you weren’t baptized, she snapped. Who do you think you are?
You weren’t baptized, she said. You were christened.
But so it was for me. When I was a student at Berkeley in the late seventies, when a whole lot of shaking was going on in the Episcopal Church, I found myself feeling ashamed that I didn’t want to be in a church with the new prayerbook or with expressions of enthusiasm for women being ordained. I figured it was just another thing that was “wrong” with me, but no matter how critical I was of myself, I continued to find churches in which I felt comfortable.
And then the day came when it all changed.
The old, settled priest was retiring. The priest-in-charge was going to be a woman. I had been at this church for years. Should I change my “prejudices”? Should I “adapt”?
But it wasn’t just an internal argument over “getting with it” that I had to deal with. I had also had vision after vision after vision on this issue.
Now I’m not an easy-to-get-along-with kind of mystic. I’m more the bull-headed, steel-willed, fiercely independent (even with God) kind of mystic.
So there were my feelings of comfort and God’s teachings on the issue of women’s ordination on one hand, and there was the rest of the world on the other. Well, most of the rest of the world. Roman Catholics were still holding strong.
So I did what I usually do. I set out to find out the truth of the matter. I stayed with the church. I hung out with the priest-in-charge. I even hung out with the nearby college chaplain, another woman. I spoke to them. But, mostly, I listened to them.
“Don’t let the door hit them in the ass on their way out,” was their most oft used phrase.
They believed in being inclusive, you see. They wanted EVERYONE to feel welcome in the church.
Everyone, that is, except people like me. They didn’t want to include me in the church.
If they knew the truth of my feelings, would they personally escort me to the door and slam it on my ass?
Who knows? I didn’t wait around long enough to find out.
But I was not satisfied with this approach to inclusivity as finishing the argument. I went onto the internet. Now, personally, I was not that interested in church politics. I truly believed that down deep, all people were rational, caring beings that wanted what was best for the church.
Seems kind of a silly belief nowadays, don’t you think?
I argued. I was insulted. I reasoned. I was condemned. It all seemed pretty mindless and childish. Then, in a vision, I was given an assignment. I was to find the person who would insult me in a particularly horrific way. I thought that, given the nature of the insult, it would come from a young man who was quite dramatic in his language.
As surprised as I was to find it, the precise insult came. But it didn’t come from the person I described above. Instead, it came from an aging woman who considered herself a priest.
That settled the argument for me. If God knew about that insult, then I would concede to God everything about the issue of women’s ordination.
To God, at least in my visions, which do have a tendency to be accurate, there is no such thing as women’s ordination.
And now, years later, women’s ordination has acted like a tsunami on the church. In come the women and their “better” religion, and out go the parishioners.
So many people have been included in being excluded from the church, that it’s a wonder the church still exists.
And what of the people put out to exile? Talk about the followers of Moses! Talk about being lost in the desert!
The severed Anglicans don’t mass together. No. Instead they splinter again and again into so many different organizations that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And their planted churches open and close, open and close, like some sort of exaggerated game show, trying to keep you guessing as to what door you should open on any given Sunday.
But, admittedly, some Anglican churches are flourishing. Take The Falls Church. It wouldn’t drive anyone from its doors. Not people who are comfortable with God. Not people who aren’t comfortable with God. Not even those people who just want to hang out for no particular reason at all.
And so what about The Falls Church, then? Oh, nothing much. Just that the lead woman in the Episcopal Church is doing her best to close her doors and drive the parishioners out into the streets.
There’s that inclusiveness again. There are a lot of asses to be slammed by the doors of The Falls Church. Perhaps she wants to use the buildings for storage.
But there is this bunch of guys who keep the world notified about the insanity of it all. Dedicated, caring men who take the time and energy to write up the articles of our newly hacked and bleeding faith and give them back to us to have and to hold. And to these gentlemen, I say, thank you.
Where is the Anglican Church headed? Who knows?
The truth is, lemmings do not follow each other over the cliffs. But who is to say what the truth is for Anglicans?
Russia lost her Christianity once upon a time.
Except it wasn’t a fairy tale. It was real.
So are the forces that drive people away from the altars in both the Episcopal and Anglican Churches.
May God have mercy on our souls.