Tag Archives: Eucharist

Whose body? Whose blood? Whose feet? Whose meal?

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday is the feast day when we celebrate Jesus doing women’s work. Most celebrations of this within the Roman Catholic tradition leave out women or relegate them to bit-parts. The feeling of injury and offence I feel at this goes deep, however this is only a tip of the true iceberg. Symbolic “sacrament” can all too easily go hand in hand with deep failure to nurture the world. Jesus asked us to enact and embody sacrament not to empty it out into words and wafers with which to keep out the world. See also my last year’s post

I am going camping this weekend, so I will keep this short. But thinking about our church’s celebration of the Last Supper, or the First Eucharist or however we wish to label it I need to think about the idea of God’s table of grace.

I live in a world where women prepare food and clean tables and set cloths on them and serve food and make guests welcome and clean up afterwards. Not only women of course, but still overwhelmingly the real material work of feeding, cooking, serving, welcoming and entertaining is gendered work, women’s work. I spent the day preparing eggs with patterns of grass, flowers and leaves that we boiled in onion skins at work. The two women in the kitchen were busy hand-making dumplings for lunch for 50 children but they had time to discuss my eggs with me, ensure I had everything and do the background work of boiling them too.

In the midst of all this I was transferred to the baby room to serve lunch, encourage them to eat, work out which baby was the right age for which milk and ensure everyone got what they needed. There was coaxing, there was insisting, there was modelling “look sweet potato…yum” and there was a lot of laughing and affirmation o give our babies a welcoming experience of sitting around the table together. There was also a lot of sweeping and wiping and changing of clothes and the team of adults (all women) had to support each other through doing that while also entertaining and comforting babies.

Then it was back to the “big kids” room where I was welcomed with “when are we going to have the eggs”. They had, had lunch but were already looking forward to afternoon tea as children do. We broke coloured eggs together and served them up with a plate of antipasto prepared by the kitchen women and whichever teacher gave up their break to do some slicing. Once again there was a lot of cleaning up to do, then I went back to babies and helped with more afternoon teas in there and then back to the “big kids” for late snack.

It was as if my whole day, this Maundy Thursday revolved around the preparation and cleaning up (and joyful celebration of) food for others. Coming home my son was in the midst of making his dinner. We will eat and go to “mass” the one meal that I am supposedly not worthy to prepare. How offensive then that women cannot preside at the eucharist (and how untrue that we “can’t”, I presided at many really significant Eucharists today- celebrations of the bounty of the earth, out grateful and inclusive selves coming together and feeding our bodies and minds for growth- what is that if not eucharist?) I witnessed also a baby smile in relief at the end of his childcare day and latch onto his mother’s breast as well as two tiny boys lay down together in the cushions with their bottles of milk, their heads touching companionably while a third friend came and lay his head down too though he didn’t have (or need) a bottle. My day was full of Eucharist coming out of the tireless and often trivialised work of women (though it must be admitted our children and families are grateful). How am I “not Christ enough” to break bread at church?

But then who else do we exclude? Who in our world is not fed because of my privilege? Whose feet are never washed? Whose foot-washing is not given due respect and dignity, or is taken for granted? Who labours to stock a table they may not sit down at? Who is mocked and earmarked for crucifixion? Whose body is broken and thrown to the wolves? Whose blood is spilled? Whose voice preaching unheard?

If we are really going to get serious about communion, Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, the idea that sacrament gives life then we must be transformed for radical sharing and service by it. It is not enough for a privileged man in a dress to stand in front of relatively privileged people one evening a year and them all to produce symbols of feeding and serving and including. LET’S GET REAL about sharing sacrament (bread, security, welcome, washing, love). Let’s touch and see and hear each other. Let’s break the bread of justice and fill every heart and belly with it.

And let’s not kid ourselves. The people who are feeding and wiping noses and sweeping up for the “least of these” are the ones who are following the call to “do this in memory of me.” Like Judas we say we will never betray Jesus. But we exclude him from leadership or even lock him away on Manus. We allow mining magnates to take away the earth that was growing his body to feed and nurture the world. 30 silver pieces and an insincere kiss is an every-day occurance in the neoliberal mind set.

Bread of life call us back to eat you, to become you, to love each other,

Forgive us for we are tired and liable to fall asleep

Feed us, wake us, wash us, draw us in and in and into your radical commitment

Transform the world!

Preparing for mass

 

So I found my battered old missal and I hope I will find some surprisingly good and lifegiving things in there. The bent spine and falling off cover are the evidence of how far this book has travelled with me, since I celebrated my much anticipated “first holy communion” when I was seven, nearly eight.I will be critical of the old words and the old format, because I have a lot of baggage with the church and the patriarchal and kyriearchal words and my own exclusion from ministry against I am certain, God’s will and for no good reason.

Things might get a little bit catholic and weird as I move between my early memories of “church” the words of the liturgy as I was taught them and my current understanding/s of theology. If anyone is reading from a different tradition I guess you can have a sort of ethnographer’s view (or skip bits). I know there have been some minor changes to wording since I was a regular at mass. I don;t know them in details but as far as I know the few inclusive changes our progressive bishop brought in, in the 80s or 90s were removed and the changes that were made in no way made the mass less exclusive, or remediated the problems I had growing up…so I will speak of the old words and if I am wrong on some of the details someone can tell me if they really want to but it won’t make much difference I am sure.

I was going to start at the very beginning, with the greeting but when I opened the missal the first thing I saw was the “preparation for mass” prayers and I remembered that we got to church about half an hour or more early because my brothers were altar servers and this was really important (after spending all saturday following them to their sport and being on the sidelines there, I got to come to church and sit on the sidelines). But this was meant to be a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in contemplative prayer (at the age of about 7 or so) and I was encouraged to read over the readings of the mass that was coming- I never got out of this habit actually as this blog attests) and think about what they mean, and what they mean for ME and also read over the 3 pages (4 if you count the illustration that was also dense with words) of my missal that were prayers for preparing for mass. There were bible verses (John 6:51; 1 Cor 11:23-26,28; 1 Cor 10:1; Rom 12:1) and there were prayers by some of the “church Fathers”- St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose, and The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century.

It was heavy and hard going for a little girl but I struggled on because it seemed the right thing to do and I really did think I “loved God” and I was terrified I would have to be a martyr when I grew up like all the ones in the stories so I was willing to just read heavy stuff instead of that!

And really, if they want boys to grow up wanting to be priests, they should let the girls go out the back and miss half the mass “serving” and having a great time with their mates like my brothers did and make the boys read the heavy stuff and sit there with nothing to do but think about it. It’s all written by important leader types who think they are the last word in priesthood (that is how the prayers come across) so I was being encouraged to pray in a way as if I was actually making the whole mass happen by invoking the Holy Spirit to come in and “declare this bread that we shall eat to be the body of Christ”.

There was also a lot of very unhealthy bragging about how unworthy “I” was and unclean and fully dependant on God to make “me” worthy and clean. Rereading it in middle-age I still struggle with the heaviness of the language and ideas. I feel burdened again by the self-hate I felt as  child. And yet then there is a lovely black and white print of some wheat growing and some vines and sun and birds and the words on the print are “The love of Christ has drawn us here together” and goes on to ask that we “exult” and find “joy” and gather ourselves together and become one from all the corners of the earth.

I may have changed what I (with my post-structuralist little mind and liking of diversity) mean as “one”; but then I can return at the beginning of “mass” “church” “eucharist” “the service” “prayers” to refocus myself on the joy and relief that I had finished the long and patriarchal prayers and had reached the wheat, vines, sun and birds. Nature. Food. Life. Joy and exultation. Difference and coming together.

I want to do some more serious and careful prayer writing or liturgy writing this year. Maybe I can start there. Maybe back to where the reflection started with John’s Jesus proudly proclaiming that he has come to be “bread” for “life”., through all the unworthiness into the fresh air and the fields where we grow bread and share it with wildlife.

Today I shared felafel with some excellent friends who support me when I am hurting and poor and who today needed a felafel and someone to laugh with. I shared a dance in front of an audience with a group of people I had felt estranged from. I walked down a crowded street where African people generously shared their culture with us. I made plans for the birthday of one son and an outing for another son. I also washed dishes, emptied kitty litter, hung out clothes. Joy was everywhere. Bread/felafel was broken. It was a day of life for my blessedly work-tired body at the end of the week.

Your kindom come.

Ways of (not)Knowing

Is it good to bite into

the crusty, doughy wheatiness

of Word made Flesh made Bread;

to drink the cup- the complex bouquet

of birth and stars and long roads,

friends, stories, long roads,

betrayal, suffering, short road to death

but also hearth-fires and washed feet?

 

Is it good to remember

that love had courage

to speak out, stand tall,

stand with, be told;

learn and grow;

to hold firm and die?

Dare we shed a tear?

 

Is it “him” and is it even me?

Where is the place on earth

where love bakes, breaks bread

and wine is shared;

where suffering is acknowledged?

What does it mean

to have “life”?

Word and bread and that thing that starts with “l”

So I visited my great aunt this week, and she is missing the mass. At times I can bring her some communion, but because it is a 45 minute drive to her and I work during the week this is not always easy to organise. She has a little Latvian prayer book and prays a prayer that is called “spiritual communion”. She showed it to me “God understands” she kept saying anxiously. “It’s in the tradition because this happens to people” I said to her (along with trying to plan how I could get her to mass which is tough because the church I go to isn’t “mass” as such.

I thought then of my last two weeks missing church (mainly out of tiredness and discouragement). I thought how I had the “What’s the point anyway?” feeling as I forced myself to go this morning. I wondered if my lack of enthusiasm for church and prayer is because I am not in severe hardship anymore, just the ordinary greyness of dissatisfying life? Or maybe because I don’t have time for my blog, maybe my blog was providing the motivation to connect?

But I decided to tell myself I needed the expensive spice mixes that are sold to raise money for refugees to have a stockpile of “presents” now that several birthdays in my circles of friends are coming up. I decided I “owed” it to the community who kept me emotionally alive in my four hideous months. I had a text from a friend. Family after all are not the people you just see when you are in the mood, they are the people you check in on in case they needed you to. God in that sense is family.

The service was melancholy because there had been a couple of deaths that touched members of the community (and therefore all of us) but it was also facing out into a beautiful sun-filled garden complete with trees in blossom and many fluttery white blossoms that turned out to be butterflies that danced out their morning’s “worship” to remind us that sometimes the short, fleeting moments in life (like a butterflies whole lifespan..though I would be more accurate if I used a Latvian word here) have meaning and beauty.

And we had lillies and candles and a very warm atmosphere of love. So that I began to reflect on what it was that I had missed for two weeks (feeling a dissatisfaction but not realising its source).

And the gospel was short but full of meaning. It was John 15: 12-14 About love and friendship and commitment and I thought about how my life has changed since I realised I was a lesbian (that is not the “l” word but it is another one). I thought about how I was a very repressed and standoffish person and how falling in love with a woman transformed me to be less afraid of the loves I felt for all the women in my life, from my departed mother, to my sisters and the friends who have known me longest. I have always loved and wished to be close to (and at times hated and feared of course) my sisters, those little babies I used to get told off for cuddling and carrying too much until they grew old enough not to appreciate or even allow it. And how I feel closer to them now.

I thought of a party I went to (somewhat reluctantly) last night and how my best friend resolved a conflict by putting her arms around everyone involved in it and starting to sing “We are family, I have all my sisters with me” which she then paused and demanded I and my sister join. And I would have needed to be drunk to cope with that before I knew I was gay. But on this occasion I remembered the warmth of everyones arms and the terrible singing and it mixed with a somewhat sweeter and quieter church:

“All around us we have known you/ all creation lives to hold you”. Held by my friends, holding my friends. Holding little two-year olds over the week and “These are holy hands” that have changed nappies and needed to be washed and rewashed before they could cut the fruit which in the toddler room is an important ritual that you have to do just right and involve each child in! Which I thought (as communion approached) is the bread of my life, within the mundane the love-things that feed my soul.

And my friendships have got warmer, my ability to deal with casual and affectionate touches without jumping into the air and becoming awkward. I speak with close friends sometimes about feelings, we have started being honest about the “l” word, because what we feel for all our friends is “love”. Why is it hard to say that? And we are honest too about our vulnerabilities, anxieties, passions and we accept more and mock less. Love is in the words like “love” like “thank you” like “I missed you” and in the withholding of words like “that’s stupid”, the words of judgement and censure.

And word/words are central too in the toddler room when we support each other’s work by saying to the children “listen to her words” and we encourage the children instead of tantruming to “use their words”. And we try to lay the foundations for a two way listening and trust relationship based on clear and respectful words. Words are the building blocks of meaning, culture, literacy and therefore thought and meaning (I am reading Bourdieu too who sees words and ways of using them as “capital” and am dabbling with discourse analysis where words are what make up reality, so many things exist BECAUSE we have found words to actualise them.

And I miss the time I used to have for words that were authentically mine, I have so much I want to write and think and read and know. And my email from an editor told me my words were not yet strong enough to leave home, but with major work they may be soon. There were a lot of positive words among the criticism after all like “We do hope…” and “Thank you” and “look forward”, “interesting”, “nicely-written” and “enjoyed”. I need to hold that intention with the “not particularly strong” and “issues” and “inconsistent” and all the hundreds of other painful words.

So my words today have been meandering and self-indulgent but as the service moved from the liturgy of the word to the Eucharist (the bread) all of the mundane and meaningful moments of life were encompassed. the movement was always into love as we honoured the moments of each others lives and brought in the spectres of the people in our hearts by alluding to them in various ways.

Then I had some moments on my own in the afternoon to put together words and bread for the week/s ahead. And to be grateful for the (yeah I’ll say it) LOVE in my life.

 

“You give them something to eat” – Priesthood that makes a difference

This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ (corpus Christi). Traditionally this has been a time to talk about Eucharist and priesthood. I had almost finished writing this blog when I was fortunate to experience the ministry of a community of women theologians who also shared food that each had prepared. My head and heart are too full of good things to rewrite the blog but I feel there is something relevant to ideas of body, blood, sacrament in what happened today. Nevertheless for want of more time I will stick with what I wrote earlier in the week…

The readings were:

Genesis 14:18-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11b-17

 

I was always taught that the most special thing you could ever do was to be a “priest”. This was a somewhat unfair thing to teach to a girl. I grew up wanting to be the one who broke and shared the life-giving bread and spoke the word of hope. I felt depressed, even suicidal about not being the one who could do these things. This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, and with all the things I have been told about real human bodies and blood as opposed to the supposedly better risen body and blood of Christ, things that sometimes contradict each other I feel like there is a maze that I have to carefully find my way through, avoiding turns into despair or superstition.

The first reading and psalm draw to our attention ancient patriarchal traditions of priesthood. Liturgy here is something Melchizedek performs for his patron (in the sense of paying him a tithe) Abram. The psalm reinforces this as a continuous tradition. So far all that is there are all the old feelings of exclusion, the idea that all of this would mean something if I was a man and could become a priest. As a mere woman in the aisles however I get a little bit sick of being expected to look up to and praise male figures and male symbolic actions for no very good reason, just because I am told to. There is no mention anywhere in these readings of any sort of meaning or even trickle-down effect to women. It all begs the question why would you bother even being there, let alone supporting it with your labour, approval and money (as women do).

The second reading then places this ancient tradition of priesthood in a context of Jesus’ last supper action as retold by Paul. We are told, as we are constantly that this is the tradition, that Jesus took the bread and cup and broke them and….hang on a second! Here Jesus is quoted as saying “Do this in memory of me!” He’s not saying “Watch a guy in a dress who thinks he is special doing it” he is saying “Do it”. No wonder that little girl that I was, was not content to sit and watch the action week after week after week, year in and year out. So there is some sort of call to priesthood here. Not a call to have priests but a call to be priests. Returning to the first reading and psalm but as a middle-aged woman who has been denied ordination I still am thinking “nope I don’t get it”. Something in the tradition is not gelling for me.

Onward to the gospel!

The gospel is one of feeding the crowds. The Twelve propose a system of individual responsibility where each person needs to go and sort out their own meal. Reading in a neoliberal time I cheer to see Jesus rejecting this approach. No, says Jesus. Our way is not to send people away. Or way is welcoming and feeding. In the face of overwhelming need we take what we can and distribute it. In the face of the “bottom line” and the “Real world” we refer the problem to God but then we take in our physical hands, the small amount that we have and we distribute it.

After five weeks unemployed and income-less I believe in miracles. Most of the miracles I have seen in that time have walked around on two legs. Most of them are people who are faced with too much to do and think and too little to distribute. Some of those miracles are my own capacity to do with less and to survive.

The lectionary puts this feeding of the five thousand as a Eucharistic act. It is a sacrament when we take the meagre supplies we can scratch together and confront the endlessness of need in the world with it. In another place Jesus points out that noone lives on bread alone…on the other hand we access the Word of God by refusing conventional wisdoms of turning people away and breaking our privilege and plenty down into crumbs that go further and do more good. When I see the miraculous feeding, and society building engaged in by Jesus, then I see a model of priesthood that is quite different to the ritualistic and patriarchal priesthood. Priesthood as nurture, priesthood as service. Priesthood as selfless giving for the sake of a better world. Priesthood of mothers and nurses, teachers and food growers, counsellors and artists and fire fighters and anyone who follows a vocation to serve others. Priesthood of doctors that refuse to be silenced as they speak the indignant Word of God concerning Manus Island. Priesthood of feminist theologians who support each other and gently heal themselves and then come back to tend the ungrateful church with their underappreciated gifts.

I used to think of women in the church as staying within an abusive relationship (which would be sinful) but I have come back to the church thinking it may be possible to be less co-dependent. It may be possible to see myself as limited by my status within the church, but I am called not to be “with” or “in” church but to be church. And then the limits I experience are part of myself, just as my body is limited in flexibility, energy and capability. This is not to take on the church’s abuse as somehow my fault, but to render irrelevant what the voice of men’s power says in attempting to boom through the church that is really my church. Some bodies live well with depression or asthma or diabetes or even cancer.

And so when I am church, I am invited into the Eucharistic act of feeding the world. The people come asking for a word of hope and healing, but they also have bodies that tire and need food. It is foolish to ignore the body and to pretend we can live wholly as spirits. In the gospel everyone sits and shares and is satisfied. In the gospel everyone looks to the sustainability and picks up the crumbs.

Noone tells us what happens to the crumbs that are gathered at the end of the miraculous healing.But then again it wasn’t women who wrote these extraordinary happenings down in the first instance. Those leftover crumbs too were the body of Christ. Five thousand is just a beginning, our mission is to feed all the world.

Take, eat, this is my body

“Take my body and eat, take my blood and drink” that all seemed very confusing and creepy when I was a child, and from reading male “experts” on faith I think it can seem creepy to them as well. But perhaps there is a type of person for this is actually a very ordinary and sensible thing to do? I am referring of course to those very ordinary people known as MOTHERS.

I am not going to claim to be Christ in any sort of a grandiose way, but of course there is something of Christ in an ordinary human experience…which is the point of Jesus grounding all his teaching in ordinary things like meals and weddings and wheat and fig-trees and shepherds (which may be exotic to the 2016 Australian reader but were ordinary and common-place to the original hearer). I would argue sacrament too is ordinary. Beautiful, precious but ordinary as a kiss from your mother, as your child’s grubby hand seeking yours.

In 1996 I first experienced my body being broken to give life to another person. This “breaking” was alleviated by some very good pain-killing medicines and the experienced midwives and a reasonably comfortable and clean bed, so it was not completely like crucifixion, my suffering was limited and I was safe and tended. But for the first time in my life I realised how powerfully creative pain and suffering can be; I could understand a love that would willingly (mostly) enter into pain and suffering. I had spent months giving the nutrients of my body over to the small and so far unresponsive life inside my womb, I had vomited and fainted with the trauma of it…I realise this is an ordinary thing that every mother does. But I had literally used my body to feed another, to nurture another so that then my body could be broken radically transforming that smaller life and giving it meaning, power and independence.

A couple of years later, it all happened again and suddenly I had two children. Both children listened to me and loved me and were free to think their own thoughts and to be themselves. Not long after this I first discovered feminist theology and I was struck by the way that the patriarchal church has to take on very ordinary things like birthing, feeding, forgiving, loving and make big liturgical “events” of this; which you could argue is a beautiful celebration of women’s work except when they say that only men can preside at celebrations of baptism (better than birth), communion (better than food) and marriage (better than just sex). And many feminist have argued that the sacramental reality is already in the mundane event itself.

I thought at once then of my mother, her hands sticky with dough night after night when she gave up hours of sleep to make fresh bread. She loved us, she loved baking…it was a sacrifice of love and in the morning we broke fresh fragrant bread like the people of God do in the sacraments. Her womanly hands were good enough for this work, despite not being ordainable because she (and I) were “only women”. Sometimes I took her work for granted, took the fresh roll for my school lunch, didn’t eat it at school (most kids at times forget or refuse to eat their school lunches) and then unable to face the sadness of my mother’s face seeing that I had wasted her labour of love and fresh ingredients I threw the roll out of the train before I got home. I remember the guilt of doing that so vividly.

But is that not also the nature of sacrament? Of the death and self-giving of Jesus that at times it is rejected, wasted, or we are unable to absorb it. Sacrament is extravagant love to those who are loved, not just to those who deserve. I pondered thoughts like this as I went home and fed my baby breast-milk which for some people is an enjoyable process, but for me was painful and difficult. It became clear to me how much nonsense the church weaves around sacraments, mystifying and codifying the very stuff of life. It is like putting a handful of good fertile earth into a golden reliquary where it can no longer feed a seed.

Consider for example the nonsense of children not being allowed to receive communion until they are old enough to magically be entered into this sacrament. I accepted this no question as a child, I loved the thought of earning a privilege through growth and learning and being more than I had been before. But if we say that only those who “understand” the Eucharist ought to have it then I suspect none of us should, or very few of us. And if the oh-so-clever but celibate male fathers of the church had only asked a REAL parent about feeding children they would see how silly it is to only give nutrition for a child’s growth after the child has already been growing for a few years. Silly ideas about child development I suppose were part of the root cause.

But any mother, even a half-arsed one could tell you, you have to feed the baby.

Once I considered this,  I considered that my babies were at least as worthy of Eucharist as I was, and considered moreover that they had already received whatever physical, tangible “reality” of Eucharist there is in the wafer and wine through their umbilical cords, just as they received the nutrients and minerals they needed through it and just as they received first language and then hopefully the Word of God through their ears and through their experience. And I made it an act of faith-activism to ALWAYS breastfeed my baby during or immediately following communion so that I was self-consciously saying “the body of Christ” to the baby at this time and passing on whatever gift of grace I supposedly received from it. And this meant that I was saying that my body was a suitable conduit for God’s embodied grace and since only women (mothers) can breastfeed I was claiming something Christlike about a mother’s body. Which was a direct disagreement with the idea that only the (male) priest can represent Christ. But after all God made a world where babies are fed by breast-milk and when you look into it whatever the mother eats seems to be passed into the baby for good or ill. So if I participated in communion as a breast-feeding mother that also logically was passed to the baby. So I marked it as sacrament.

Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” and perhaps he was referring to breaking bread together and talking about the gospel events like we do each Sunday. Perhaps he was referring also to washing feet (serving) and feeding, giving our bodies for the well-being of others, radical sharing, radical giving of life, transformative relationships such as the mother-baby one (but any mentoring and gifting relationship could also mirror this sacrament). Jesus used humble, ordinary events in many societies presided over (or invisibly performed) by women to take us into the deepest realities of radical grace. Jesus did all this and then was killed for being too radical, going too far.

Jesus didn’t say “make safe, ritual versions of this with some special people who are more important than the rest of you and who can emphasise how much more important the ‘sacramental’ version is than the ordinary version”. Jesus said “do this to remember me”. We can be ordinary. We can be real. We can enter into grace and provide grace for others. In memory of Christ, for the growth of those we feed. Ordinary, women’s-work grace. Heartbreaking, body-wearing, radical gifting in love. Sacrament.

 

When liturgy is women’s work: self healing and being loved

Even though I made claims at the beginning of this story which did not turn out to be true as I travelled through my story, I will not edit the beginning partly because I am so time-poor but mainly because I think there is an honesty in keeping in the way I delude myself and the way I try to avoid the obvious.

Given my estrangement from the lectionary at the moment and the fact I need to study I will not bother looking up a reading, will just recount a spiritual experience I had this week. I was challenged by it, back when I was more “churchy” I would have mistrusted what I felt or felt I had to turn it into a Christian framework somehow.

Instead now, I just want to tell it the way it was, with possibly my Christian prejudice still in place and my feminist bias too but not deliberately turning it to a familiar framework. I will trust the whatever, the God-thing to be real enough not to need me to fabricate Her realness with a framework. I will trust myself to love and follow the God-being enough not to need to force myself back into a box I never was all that comfortable in and have long outgrown.

As I say to the pre-schoolers “This is a true story, but there are still a lot of questions about how I know this story and whether someone else would know the story or tell the story differently”

I was unhappy yesterday, with an unhappiness that was probably just the after-effect of letting my happiness get too high like a drunkenness a few hours before. There is a person that makes me happy, euphoric and I always get drawn into a transfiguration type experience with her and then like in the biblical story (which wasn’t going to be part of this story) I want to make some sort of tent around the experience to prolong and own and predict it into my continued life. And it is a gift, but it is not that sort of a gift…the fragrance of beauty and possibility fades.

Later on she was short with me, I had a half-heard comment from someone else who laughed with her and I felt shut-out, the outsider. I felt they were mocking, and she rejecting me. Actually very little happened. It was a feeling, an after-effect of a high but I felt like shit. I wondered if I should work harder at not being in love with this person. I wondered how I would live without the glow of that love…I panicked at the unsustainability of it no matter what.

And though I didn’t feel like it I met my friends for belly dancing. My friends surrounded me. Often they have been sad and I have tried to commiserate and comfort. This time they were happy, bubbly, full of plans. They laughed at my emotional pain but in a loving way. I saw through their eyes that I was being stupid, overreacting – but they were not cruel enough to say so. One of them spoke with me at some length challenging my rigid meanings of what had happened- offering other softer meanings allowing me to begin to let go the self-hate and resentment.

But there was still sadness.

“I’ll dance it out” I said unconvinced, I wanted them to believe I was being brave, that I was at least trying not to be so stupid. “Yes dance it out” a friend agreed, that worked for me last week” but I had loved dancing last week and all week as I practiced and now I just did not want to dance. I felt too stupid and hideous and like a great big lump of sadness and I wanted to cry not to dance.

We went into dancing and the teacher welcomed us, the group had already started and they drew us in. We called instructions to each other (actually I was new to this and didn’t say anything but I appreciated that the more experienced dancers did). I had learned so much by practicing over the week but now my mind was full of tears and my body heavy, uncooperative. I forced myself to follow half a beat too late, my feet all wrong, my body ungainly.

Mostly the teacher did not comment. At one point she reminded me that it was early days for me and that it was just good to try. She reminded me to layer the moves, to only focus on the feet if I couldn’t get feet, hips, hands, upper body everything. In tribal belly dancing you layer move upon move upon move. Beginners don’t have to move their whole body. We move as a team, we try to all move together and be together and flow as one. We signal to each other the moves we will choose in the changes and we take turns leading the group.

I am a raw beginner, no damn good at it but the mathematical precision of where I ahd to put my feet gradually took over and my hips wanted to follow. My arms were too high so the teacher helped me drop them and stretch them out as they should be. Other dancers, more experienced than me also had small adjustments, but the teacher was always very positive to us and always broke it up into the smallest most logical steps possible. It was a type of maths, it took my brain and body over. I was still sad but not as heavy with it. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; each move was eight beats (more or less) and they always happened in pairs. The feet. I placed my feet right, corrected or caught up when I needed to. I moved around the circle suddenly confident and keen to lead when it was my turn- then once again confused and lost.

The teacher had let me pass on leading the previous week, this time she saw that I was emotionally ready…with the right scaffolding, she suggested the move I should “lead” and remindingly took me through it. It was a parody of leading only, but I know from my pre-schoolers that that is how you become someone who can do. You imitate the appearance of doing, you slowly take over a step or a feeling of doing and you keep trying.

“You’re actually ok for someone on their second lesson” a friend reassured me

“I am trying to speak to myself as I would to the kids I teach” I admitted, “that it’s ok to take some time to learn a skill”

“It’s like a different language” she challenged, “You can only learn by doing. I love bellydancing. It’s all types of women…all ages, all sizes, all shapes. Well it is in tribal anyway”

At the end after our cooldown I realised I am quite fit. I was less breathless than many of them. I need to gain skill and the right sort of intelligence to understand which move comes next and remember how to do it but I am fit enough for this. When I stop panicking I will be flexible. I felt a glow of happiness that I would one day have the chance to be better at this as the teacher brought us into a circle.

“This is what we do, this is what tribal dancers do in every country” she told us, “If you don’t know their language you still dance with them and we finish with this” we brought our arms out blessing our sister- first to the right then to the left. We brought our hands together into the centre of our body “this prayer is also for ourselves” we knelt to the earth and blessed it with our outstretched hands and folded bodies, we rose up and travelled clockwise together then once more blessed our sisters to the right and to the left.

I felt sisterhood. I felt the “otherness” and the presence of God. I felt connectedness to the earth. I felt a humility creep into my body- what were my sorrows or my mistakes after all? What significance do labels like “Stupid” or “unattractive” or “rejected” have. The divine presence was flowing through me and my “sisters” and we were deeply emotionally and connectedly intelligent, we were attractive with a glowing light of beauty and love that flowed from us to all people and the earth we were accepted, welcomed, beloved by each other and the earth and the divine.

“I will try to be ok about her not loving me” I tried to pray but it came out differently.

“There is no significance in wondering and wishing and hoping about her loving or her not loving. There is dignity in me because I love her. There is dignity in me because I see dignity in others. I will walk into greater compassion and kindness toward others. Real love for someone leaves the other free.” I wasn’t moralising at myself like I have tried to when I try to pray the “right” way, I was letting go of pain and feeling a calm self-acceptance that was loving toward others. I felt connected to everyone- to my accepting friends, my dancing group, to my child and to my friend’s partner who was babysitting him, to the partners of all my friends, the friends I have not seen for a while to the friends who need my help, the colleagues who love working with me and the ones who rub me up the wrong way.

I am connected to the person who may or may not find significance in that, and to people I have not wanted intimacy with. I am connected to the people who bullied me in high school and helped me become such a nervous wreck but they are human and forgiven because I am filled with redemptive grace and beloved. I am human and forgiven for my blunders. I am called to mean well and to question.

Sisterhood in this case was inclusive, it was beautiful and because it honoured the specificity of our femaleness there was a spirituality of deep healing grace here. On the way home I ignored my anxiety about starting work at 7:30 the next morning and stopped for pizza and immature jokes with some of my “sisters”. I wasn’t going to turn this back into my Christian paradigm but what was that if not Eucharist?