PRAISE AND PRAYER
October 18, 2018Hermit Pete
Praise is the ability to lift one’s self out of despair to see beauty or the potential for beauty in a situation that may be more akin to despair. It is the ability to find gratitude in the painful, joy in the most sorrowful, riches in the deepest of poverties.
Prayer is the means by which praise is possible. It is the foundation on which the house that is praise exists.
Without prayer, there is no praise.
Without praise, there is no prayer.
If we constantly hold our hand out to God, rather than offer God our embrace, we are not able to grow, to move past the open palm.
When we embrace God, especially in the most desperate of situations, the still and quiet presence overtakes us. It takes great practice because our nature is to revert to the heat and the red of the emotions, to punish, to persecute, to safeguard our own privilege, our festering safety.
A simple example is snow. In Saskatchewan, snow comes when it wants to. You don’t have the choice to run away from it always, and even if you do, it’s going to come back. Last winter was one of those situations where we had a very warm fall, and were only suddenly slapped with the cold and probably one of the craziest snow storms that I can remember. There was so much snow that I couldn’t get the car out of the street to commute to work out of town.
I spent a few moments mentioning this challenge on Facebook, frustrated by the snow and wanting to get out. My spiritual director simply wrote, “Snow and rain, praise the Lord.” That’s all it took.
A more complicated example is living at home with an elderly parent who believes they can, and are, more capable than they are. The daily challenge is to try and not react to the buffer that happens at every moment, the need my parent has to assert their presence in my home in such a way that creates a real challenge in terms of boundaries. Complicating the situation is being left high and dry by my sibling who has simply made the choice to not involve himself in what’s going on. Because it doesn’t directly affect him, he makes no effort to make the situation better. My parent sees my partner as a threat and is abusive towards him in a very passive aggressive way, which makes trying to build a life together challenging.
And yet there still has to be moments of prayer, moments of praise. Learning to detach from my father’s behavior is beyond challenging. It’s painful. But it’s an opportunity for praise, an opportunity to be thankful for the people who are supportive, kind, loving. It’s an opportunity to take the silence that does happen as a moment for prayer, a moment to be still enough to recognize the storm that’s going on under my own roof as one that will one day pass, one that helps me to recognize that even if I don’t feel like I have a home here, it has helped me to recognize what it is that I need and want.
Snow sucks. But without snow, the excitement of spring can’t happen. The joy of summer flowers and the smell of clover can’t happen.
*This is part of a series of a year long journey through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“. If you’d like more information on Old/Independent Catholicism, or would like more information on my denomination, or feel called to a vocation, click here!
This has been a very interesting week, with lots of challenging things happening.
I attended a talk at the University of Regina given by Tasheka Lavann, about working ‘woke’, or being attentive to the idea of privilege in our society and culture and how these aspects of privilege can quietly or loudly support ideas that deeply effect people in our communities.
Later in the week, a change was made within the service department of the Government of Canada to allow for a greater consideration of how individuals identify. The principle items expressed were general terms of courtesy we simply use without thinking deeply about, namely Mister, Misses, and Miss–along with the terms mother and father.
Now I’ve watched the backlash on this. I’ve watch the comments that are popping up in feeds and comment sections, I’ve heard people give that 1950’s grandmother sucking air into the mouth, shaking the head and sighing in disgust like they’ve smelt as someone let a fart out in an elevator.
My partner, Dan, has for the past year been attempting to show me just how privilege effects people. This has been a particular challenge for me because as a cis gender (namely my gender is the same as the sex I was born with) queer man, I’ve always associated myself as a part of a minority that has been in a state of struggle. That state of struggle is something that I, and a lot of us, have grown comfortable with. It’s given us a means of accepting that we’ve ‘reached that point’ where we’ve plateaued with certain rights, privileges, and recognitions that we didn’t have twenty, thirty, or forty years ago.
Dan is empathic in a very, very special way. He’s able to identify with individuals on both sides of a conflict, or on two sides of an issue in a very emotional way. This was really apparent to me last year when, after Black Lives Matter marched in the Toronto Pride Parade, he had to address questions brought up to him about police officers participating in pride stuff while in uniform. The questions were made challenging by the fact that they were being asked by Dan’s dad, who is RCMP.
When the virtue of “example” came up this week, I was immediately drawn to the scene of Jesus in the upper room.
“Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.
Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”)
So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example—you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13, New English Translation)
Identifying where privilege exists in our lives, being able to step out of it and take it off like an outer garment so that we are able to humble ourselves, to wash the feet of our siblings: these things require great courage and trepidation. In many ways, we have become comfortable, liberated, justified by the struggle of our past as queer people. It brings us down to the ground to the washing place, where we get our hands dirty in the service of advocating and helping others. Saint Francis himself in the first rule said:
Let them observe among themselves what the Lord says: “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them,” and “what you do not wish done to you, do it not to others.” And let the ministers and servants remember that the Lord says: I have not “come to be ministered unto, but to minister,” and that to them is committed the care of the souls of their brothers, of whom, if any should be lost through their fault and bad example, they will have to give an account before the Lord Jesus Christ in the day of judgment. (The First Rule, Confirmed without a Papal Bull)
As a Franciscan, I realize that privilege was experienced in Francis’ time even though it may have expressed itself differently because of the times in which Francis lived. But the sentiment of privilege hasn’t changed. The idea of living the vocation is to live ‘with the lepers’ as Francis did, the people who were the lowest on the rungs of the ladder of privilege. It means taking the example of Christ, acting in courage, and lowering one’s self out of privilege not to achieve or have less than what one is entitled to, but rather to become more fully what God intended us to be in the first place.
This is a challenging, and a repeating theme for me. Privilege doesn’t require courage in the least. It simply requires a willingness to accept and participate. Challenging privilege is terrifying! Especially when so many people have become comfortable in it, comforted by the idea that the poverty of others isn’t something they have to touch, or is something they can simply mouse click away. When I think of people like Dan who have to live empathically, recognizing how there are different rules dependent upon where you were born, the colour of your skin, your racial background, your employment status, the gender you identify as, or the walk you’re trying to walk, I realize I can’t do it alone. When I think about the walk Tasheka walks, having come from a country that was the first territory to legally revoke the entitlement for same sex couples to marry, a territory where people are beaten and killed for identifying as queer with little to no repercussions–literally within the last week of this blog post–and literally with no press coverage anywhere, I realize I can’t do it alone. When I think about how my trans siblings literally are clenching their fists in frustration and grief because locally, they are still fighting for recognition even from within our own gender and sexually diverse community, I realize I can’t do it alone.
Confronting privilege, confronting the backlash of privilege, confronting the reality of privilege: this is something that Jesus did, and did repeatedly. That confrontation is the reason we are in the middle of Passiontide, leading up to Good Friday, and ending with Easter Sunday. This confrontation done consistently eventually brings the realization that the only privilege that can exist justly is the privilege of treating everyone with the same compassion, dignity, and love due them as a creation of God in God’s image.
This is our Passion. This is our Cross. This is our opportunity to wash the feet of our siblings, and it is something we must do if we, as a society, want to continue to exist into the next hundred years.
The calling to Franciscan life for me is becoming more about authentic human-being-ness, about challenging regularly the need to remain in privilege and isolation from my fellow human beings. It is, the the words of the poet Henry Rollins, at once ‘terrifying and wonderful.
This is part of a series of a year long journey by Friar Pete, O.F.A., St. Michael's Hermitage, Regina, SK through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“.
Oh-oh. The “E” word.
I’m going to try and tie this week’s reflection in with how I left the last week because I think one of the keys to understanding evangelization.
In my early years as an activist, we had encounters with and had to deal with recurring incidents of fundamentalism, and in many ways, I think because of those encounters and the kinds of encounters a lot of queer people have with religion, we get the understanding or idea that religion tends to be a negative thing, that it’s not something compatible with a queer calling, and like the stance of many Christian denominations, it’s ok to be queer provided you don’t act on your impulses.
To be even more specific, the Roman Catholic Church’s catechism speaks about ‘same sex attraction’ not being in the way of participating in the church, but that participation in holy orders is impossible, and that fellow congregants should support people with ‘same sex attraction’ with disinterested friendships.
I don’t know about you, but any friend I had who was disinterested in me wasn’t a friend for long. One of the key aspects of a friendship is interest!
When I made the decision to investigate becoming a religious in a Catholic community, I made the choice with the understanding that up to that point as someone who was practicing Roman Catholicism as an unbaptised outsider who wasn’t willing to enter a physical church building specifically because of the catechetical teachings on same sex attraction. I had to hedge a bet that, in hindsight, probably wasn’t as big of a bet as I had initially thought: namely, bet that this teaching about gender and sexually diverse people was not on the mark, and that by following my call in an Independent Catholic setting I wouldn’t be barring myself from entering the Kingdom.
NASA will soon be launching a brand-new telescope to replace the Hubble Space Telescope which is reaching the end of it’s life. A few years back, Hubble was pointed into to ‘blank’ patches of space and took photographs of what was there. What turned up was an image of what at first appeared to be a star field, until they realized that what they were looking at weren’t stars but actual galaxies.
Put this into perspective. Next time you’re in the country, look up at the sky and pretend that instead of stars you’re looking at galaxies. Each galaxy containing hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of stars with planets with the potential for life. Now, consider the Catholic cosmology that says God created this. All of this. Consider the theology that says God is sentient and aware of every atom in this creation.
You’re going to tell me that God didn’t know what God was doing when God made gender and sexually diverse people?
But where does this put us in terms of what evangelization is about? There are two paths that must be looked at. The first is how we share within our own communities of queer people given the context of pain, suffering, and ostracizing that tend to happen in most mainstream congregations with GSD people. There’s a misquoted saying attributed to St. Francis that goes, “Preach the Gospel at every opportunity, use words when necessary.”
Even though it’s a misquote, it rings pretty true. In our own communities, this means approaching people who feel that we as GSD people have marginalized or continue to do so. Our siblings of colour, our trans siblings, people who find themselves at the end of gossip or criticism because they don’t necessarily measure up to what we hold as the stick of perfection in terms of activism, or what a body should look like, or how a person should dress or talk, or someone who’s suffered because of addiction or mental illness. Our evangelization as queer people has to begin with our own community and has to reflect how we treat the members of our own community.
But having done this or entered a state of change and learning to accomplish this, we have to come to terms with a very hard reality. Christ said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) When we think of least, who do we think of? Do we think of people who have the outward appearance of poverty, someone who meets our idea of someone with less than what we have? I think these are the kinds of people our Lord was talking about, but there’s the uncomfortable reality also that people who are poor in acceptance, poor in having an open mind, people who are locked in the law and lack compassion, are these not also the poor? I’m drawn to think about the fundamentalists I encountered in my early years as an activist now, but I’m also drawn to think about people who’s political and social views are extreme. And as difficult as it is to accept, the people who would denounce queer people as being sinners are also the poor.
The idea I want to propose is this: instead of spending time trying to justify our presence in the church as queer people, let’s accept that we are a part of the church with the blessing of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen! Let’s instead approach the people who vilify us as the poor. They come to us bearing gifts of anger and hatred (yes, gifts) that will help us to really understand the suffering our Lord experienced. This means practicing radical compassion when it would be so much simpler to practice conventional anger. It means not taking an eye for an eye, but truly understanding what it means to turn the other cheek and to love your enemy as your neighbour, as yourself.
This is what it means to be a Christian in a gender and sexually diverse context.
This is part of a series of a year long journey by Friar Pete, O.F.A., St. Michael's Hermitage, Regina, SK through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“.
This is a tough one for a lot of people. The idea that a piece of bread and a portion of wine and water can be transformed into something Divine, something that is more, is a hard concept because it goes contrary to what we know as materialistic and scientific facts. We tend to want to assert that this is simply a ritual, simply an act that uses substances to symbolically represent how we are now closer to God, through the symbolic presence of the Eucharist being Jesus. The bread being His body and the wine and water being His blood.
Things don't transform like that except in fairy tales. Its the same principle as Santa Claus, the tooth fairy. Its a delusion that is performed as a means of asserting the validity of another delusion.
But things do transform. Seeds become plants. Plants become food. The process that allows this to occur is measured by hypothesis that are observable in repeatable conditions. Scientific principles require an act of faith every time they observed: the faith that the results will be predictable, and the same.
People transform, sometimes so radically and so improbably that the people around them hardly are able to believe it. A few years ago, I was so gripped by anxiety and depression that the people closest to me did not believe that I was going to be able to pull myself out of it. And yet, almost overnight, my depression and anxiety were shrunk to manageable proportions.
So is it unreasonable to believe that the Eucharist. the bread and wine, is the actual physical presence of Jesus Christ?
Of course its not unreasonable to believe this!
We exist in a society that is full of flash and bang. When something quiet approaches us, it's hard to be able to hear, or to even listen continually because we are taught to be impatient. If it's not something that can be tangible or explained in 30 seconds, it must not be real--not because it can't be explained or be tangible in less than 30 seconds, but because we don't have the patience to wait, to think, to reason.
The Eucharist teaches us to be patient. It teaches us to listen, to be silent, to be comfortable with the uncomfortableness of that silence. It teaches us to go inward, to be mindful of God's presence within us. It links us through time and space to every single Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper, draws us to the upper room the night before the crucifixion, and links us directly to Christ not only in history, but in the present.
Reverence for the Eucharist is reverence not only for tradition, it is reverence for the actual presence: Jesus is present in the bread and wine--Jesus is present within us when we consume the bread and wine. But more importantly, Jesus is present in every other human being that we meet on the face of the planet; including the people we would hope with all out hearts to not find Him. So the political leaders who drive us crazy, the activists who might be too far right or left on the scale of politically correct for our tastes, the atheist and the agnostic, the ultra poor and the ultra rich: Christ is there.
For me, as a Eucharistic Catholic, this means that I'm currently only able to receive the sacraments when I travel to Toronto. It was brought up recently by a colleague that it shouldn't be a problem to receive sacraments in a Roman Catholic church: the problem I have with that is this. In 99.9% of all Roman Catholic instances, being an actively queer person isn't copacetic with Roman Catholic dogmatic belief. For me to receive sacraments in a Roman Catholic setting would require me to effectively be receiving the body and blood while not being in a state of grace (meaning, not being in the best condition spiritually/mentally/emotionally to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ). In order for me to receive the sacrament in full honesty, in full communion, it's got to be in a setting where I'm open about who and what I am.
But this then opens up the question: What's the Divine attitude towards people who are queer? And can one be sufficiently reverent towards the Eucharist while being fully engaged in queer culture?
I think this is a great topic for a future blog post. Stay tuned.
This is part of a series of a year long journey by Friar Pete, O.F.A., St. Michael's Hermitage, Regina, SK through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“. If you’d like more information on Old/Independent Catholicism, or would like more information on my denomination, or feel called to a vocation, click here!
This is a tough one for me today because I'm trying to assimilate some hard things that were said specifically about a production here in town, but more generally, speak to how trans people are treated by society and by the queer "community".
The reflection, in part, includes a passage from Hebrews which reads: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who is promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hb, 10:23-25)
Something I've been working over in my head as part of developing a retreat for Pride this year is how we can draw from our experiences, the experiences that in part help to identify us, can make us more empathic to those around us. Our experiences may be different, but the emotions hold a kind of solidarity that we can use to expand our perceptions and shake off the cobwebs that resting in privilege creates. After I had read the letter (which you can find here), I had to take a look at the script I was working with and ask myself, is this something people want to hear, is this something people would find encouraging, is this enough?
This is where the idea of encouragement comes along.
When I started to try to learn about privilege, what privilege was, what it meant to me not only as someone who is part of a system that includes me as privileged, but also as someone who in the same mouthful excludes me, I had and still have a hard time with simple things like pronouns, with trying to identify with what it must be like to be trans, especially when we live in a 'community' that locally (and I suspect universally) still has a long way to go in terms of embracing everyone within it. There are many of us in the 'community' that are trying very hard to be inclusive and considerate of everyone, and sometimes we fall short. But it's important to remember that we're trying.
In this context, I think encouragement is not only an active thing that one individual does, but it's only possible with internalization, with assessment, with honest acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, things aren't balanced and we're benefiting from that imbalance. This isn't to say that any and all efforts aren't important, but the reality is this: I know of at least two incidents in the Regina community where trans people were treated inappropriately by members of the queer 'community'.
Encouragement begins by saying to our trans siblings: You're right.
Our community has failed you because some of us have forgotten what it was like to be the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, Georgia who were refused the sacraments because they were queer, parishioners who remained at the alter rail until the end of service in protest, 23 years before Stonewall.
Some of us have forgotten what it was like to have to walk Albert Street wearing masks because we could be identified, fired, arrested for standing up for our basic human rights, for wanting to be proud, for wanting a parade. Some of us have forgotten what it was like to have to walk the halls of the Saskatchewan Legislature, to sit in the public gallery, to watch as every NDP MLA wore a pride pin EXCEPT for then Premier Roy Romanow, who's government refused to declare LGBT Pride across Saskatchewan for one day.
We've forgotten you because some of us have become complacent in what we have achieved, and in that achievement, we've created an atmosphere of privilege that is exactly the same as the one we have fought against.
Some of us have forgotten that queer spaces are supposed to be inclusive to the entire tapestry of communities that unites us. We've forgotten to speak up when we hear people being abusive, treating us the way we were once treated ourselves.
Some of us have forgotten what it's like to be stalked, to be hunted, to be bashed. We've lost touch with the fear, the anxiety, the stress of having to stand in a shower, trying to wash the smell of urine away that was only moments ago inside water balloons that were thrown, the word "faggot" that was heard along side laughter, that wondering if I had been too gay, too open, if I was still safe to walk home. We've lost touch with the connection to the violence that still lives, still plagues our trans siblings.
If we're going to call ourselves a 'community', we have to engage: we have to constantly consider how to love and encourage one another, how to proceed with good works, how to reconcile, to listen, to allow ourselves to be heard, and to respect the stories we hear. The day is here. Our trans siblings have waited long enough. It's time to be the family we purport to be, it's time to find the commonality in our communities that unites us, and act on it.
We can't encourage unless we're prepared to admit we've caused harm, inadvertently or otherwise. We can't encourage if we're still willing to walk together, but on different sides of the street.
When we are able to think back to when we were marginalized, when we were in the emotions of being marginalized, we enter into the beginning of understanding the walk of the person on the other side of the street. It then becomes our responsibility to cross over. If we wait, we risk loosing the opportunity for reconciliation, an opportunity to strengthen each other by working towards a new way of thinking, a way that acknowledges privilege not as something entitled by where you were born, but by virtue that you were born a human being with diverse talents, flaws, and an innate entitlement to respect regardless of the condition of the shell your spirit is contained in.
How do you do it?
Smile. Say hello to people. Say hello to people you wouldn't normally say hello to. Challenge people when you hear something that's not consistent with how you would be treated or thought of yourself. Recognize when you're taking part in a system that is marginalizing another person for your own benefit. Love people, even and especially the people that make you angry, that push you into corners, that want you to be something different or challenge your ideas or your beliefs. Give those people the opportunity to be who they are and watch, listen, engage with your heart but not your mouth.
Encourage people with your actions more than your words. Be consistent with your actions, especially if it means doing something you're afraid to do.
It's OK to be a coward! It's OK to be afraid! It's OK to be scared of change.
Change anyway. Change if it's the right thing to do.
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