Saturday, July 29, 2006

Communion story and how this blog got its name

A friend just reminded me that I hadn't posted in a couple of days. Sorry if you happened along and there was nothing new.

When I started this blog I named it Chrysalis Dreams because I believe I am in the process of being renewed or rebuilt. Part of that rebuilding is from my own efforts; part of it is totally God's work. Isn't that the way it works with butterflies too? The "dreams" part was meant to reflect the idea of future self images. Today I was trying to plan this post and realized that the idea of dreams is also a concept about our realities that I picked up from "The Four Agreements" by Miguel Ruiz. According to Ruiz, we are all dreaming all the time, but we are dreaming awake. This isn't the same as daydreaming. Instead, it is building our realities. Our dreams can affect others if they let them. Other's dreams can affect us. When we are learning how to dream our parents, teachers and others who influence our lives teach us their dreams. That concept has a lot of room to play with. Admittedly, I don't have it all in hand yet. Probably I will refer back to the concepts I am gaining from that from time to time. Anyway, it occured to me that the word "dream" might have more meaning that I originally credited it with. last post was about retro learning and I mentioned a Communion experience I had that got me back on track with my faith. It was one of those surprising moments that really change your focus and perspective.

My faith came to completion in a small non-denominational church that was part of the grassroots faith movement of the 80's. It was a good "milk" church in that it was good for newbie Christians. Part of the character of that movement was the idea of a personal relationship with God. He was your friend. You communed with him in a loving but unassuming way that was very comfortable and intimate. He had your best interests at heart. To a large extent, all that is still true although the terms and labels of that decade have faded from popularity. So how does that translate for me today? Well I like to find that I have a very personal relationship with my church. I like to be friendly with the pastor. My church friends are special to me because I feel we share a life view and values that are similar and connect us together in ways that should help make us closer. That doesn't always happen but quite often it does. Most importantly, my faith has to have meaning to my life and vice versa. That part is kind of selfish sounding yet I think most of us feel that our lives have to have meaning or they aren't really good.

My church of today is a very "corporate" church. It is Episcopal. We do corporate confessions of sin, holding all of the body as sinners and asking God's forgiveness for all of us. We pray the Lord's Prayer in a corporate tone, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." When I am feeling particularly in need of forgiveness I find this corporateness disturbing and unhelpful. Yes my friends need forgiveness too, but I need to feel repentent to get to the point where I believe God wants me to be and gain forgiveness. When I have a lot of company as a sinner I find I'm less inclined to blame myself and thus feel less guilty. That might be a good thing for self esteem but not if I want to motivate myself to change. Nothing can get us moving faster than a real sense of self conviction.

Last year I had been at my present church for 3 years and was feeling rather alone there. I grumbled to others that I had no friends there. I accused the church of not being a welcoming body. And I had considered changing churches. That didn't happen. Everytime I started looking I'd find something I still liked about my church or something I didn't like about the alternatives and stay. Part of the reason for my lack of happiness in my church was that I didn't feel connected to the worship. My faith was formed in a charismatic church. Episcopal churches are anything BUT charismatic. You will seldom see people raising their hands toward God in prayer. You won't hear them exulting in the worship of the traditional hymns that are sung there. The service lacks the opportunity for most individual expressions of the faith experience. Nevertheless, the faith of most Episcopalians is very real and incredibly deep. That is what I think kept me there. Still I longed for that chance to find it personal.

The experience happened when a friend serving communion called my name before offering me the cup. This so seldom happens that it was totally new to me. I reacted with delight. He was making the service of communion a "personal service"! I am thinking akin to the "washing of feet" here. I looked up into his eyes, our gazes locked and down the channel between us came the Holy Spirit. He shot into our space and then filled the area around us. I could feel His joy in my reacton to this offering. For the rest of that day I glowed with happiness. I had found that personal connection to my worship there. That was it except for the aftermath.

For days after that I spent time reflecting on what had happened. Because I was so reflective on faith, when my life got overly busy the first solution I thought of was a retreat. I decided to go on Cursillo. Cursillo is designed to renew your faith and commitment to it. Since it builds lay leaders, I also hoped that it would provide me with mentors for my life. It did all of that and more. Once again my life is solidly on a path that I believe is taking me where God wants me. I am happy in my church. Friendships are happening for me there. I am learning about service too. Recently I went through Lay Eucharistic training so that I could help by serving at the altar. The response from my church to my personal growth and transformation has been beautifully rewarding. Finally I feel like a member of that body.

Sometimes I still reflect on that communion. There must be lessons to learn from so profound an experience. At first, I looked backwards trying to figure out why it happened. Now I am also trying to look forward. I think that, because of the "service" oriented nature of Communion, God wants me to serve. That hasn't been an area of strong performance in the past, but it seems to be time and opportunities are being provided.

There is also the idea of how "real" the concepts that we claim to believe about our sacraments are to us as we go through them. The other day I was talking about it to a friend when suddenly I had a flash vision. Call it insight if you want (I have been having those occaisionally since cursillo). It was a vision of Jesus on a plate all cut up like those home economics posters showing the beef carcus and all the different cuts you can get from the body. While a little weird, it wasn't excessive blood and such (I don't dream that way). Instead it caused me to think, "Wow, talk about service!" Also present was the awareness of the fact that he willingly gave up his life for those who, like myself, choose to accept and believe. That goes way beyond service and echos into my future. In that moment of perspective, I came to see how real the body and blood in our wine and bread feast are; and how a faith built on sacrifice and service can move through the ages transforming humanity. Like I said, I'm a retro learner. (grin)

Peace! Hope! and Joy!


Susan Palwick said...

Lee, I think you'd like Verna Dozier's The Dream of God.

At my church, communion servers often say people's names, and I try to do it when I serve the chalice. It certainly does make communion more personal. I hate churches where the servers race down the line without looking at anyone!

Lee said...

Thank you Susan. I'll look for that book.

Glad to hear that you work at making the ritual a personal experience for your flock. At my church when we are trained they caution us not to say names unless we can name everyone to avoid offending anyone left out. Our servers don't exactly race but the later service has many more people than my early one does. I suspect that standards set for the late service prevail. Our pastor, who has been there 3+ years, doesn't speak anyone's name. I'm not sure if that is a personal choice or a habit of distancing himself picked up during his years of being a lawyer.

Martyn Taylor said...

Naming just isn't part of our tradition, but wonderful if it brought you closer.

Being a northern (of England) nonconformist puritan who finds himself back in the same Church of England church I started at nearly half a century ago I have always had problems with charismatics. Yes, their fervour is inspiring, but their exclusivity is intimidating (my first wife was severely hurt by a group who assured her she was damned to hell if she did not believe exactly what they believed) My brother, on the other hand, attends a Roman Catholic church of the Jesuitical charismatic tendency and derives huge joy and strength from it.

God has a different voice for each of us, if only we will listen.

I find our older churches marvellous places for listening to that still, small voice of calm, Durham cathedral and Hexham abbey in particular.

Lee said...

Martin, I'm sorry your wife ran into such unaccepting people. We had a little of that in the church I attended but I think it was more from them being fundamentalists than the fact that they were charismatic. We also had legalists which is treating the bible as law and then shoving that law down everyone else's throat. Neither of those are very good for churches.

For me the best part of being charismatic was the knowing that you were in touch with God's spirit. That is what the pull is. When you get that there is very little doubt that you are communing with God.

Yes! That still small voice is one of my favorites. I find it in the prayer garden at my present church. God gives us different voices too. And that gives me food for another post. Thanks Martin!

San said...

When I attend church, and I'm not the regular I once was, I go to a progressive Protestant church. I go to the "early bird" service because it does feel more personal. I'm on the prayer net too. That keeps me connected to people on a personal level, even when I don't see them. Sometimes I don't even know the people who've requested prayer. But it feels right to voice their issues and problems in the presence of God. And, yes, it does feel personal.

Lee said...

I'm glad we both share the joy of praying for others. It always helps me keep the focus on what is important. Often the passages I read will remind me of something I need to think about.

I've been through a lot of churches. Even though I'm a cradle Episcopalian, I have also been a nondenominational charismatic, a Methodist, a Missouri Synod Lutheran, a Southern Baptist and now I'm back home in my childhood church. What makes your "progressive Protestant" church home for you?