Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Liturgy Recharge

shieldSix days a week I report to the local church at 8am. Five of those days are for work; Sundays are for choir and worship, though often members of the congregation ask me work-related questions because, hey, I’m there and I have answers. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

I also really miss liturgical worship. For forty years I’ve been an active member of the Episcopal Church, from a college church to a cathedral to a very high church and a huge historic church in Boston. I’ve sung in choirs, run stewardship programs, studied the Bible and church history, served on vestries, visited the sick, polished brass on altar guilds, been part of small groups, organized libraries, cleaned up kitchens after parish suppers, and served on search committees.

But no matter where we were, our worship followed The Book of Common Prayer. My godmother wrote when I was confirmed many years ago that the BCP “is still a tremendous source of strength, its prayers for quiet confidence, for raising of children, for those we love, for those in mental darkness, have been invaluable to me and I have never been without comfort and support.” She was a woman of great faith with a solid core foundation that shone through her life and relationships. I learned from her that the prayers of the BCP, said automatically so many Sundays, provide the needed words when the heart is full or hurting, beyond words but wanting to cry out.

Most of my churches celebrated communion every Sunday, but the Order for Morning Prayer is also beautiful. I found comfort in the ritual of the liturgy, of an order of service with well-chosen words for celebrant and congregants, with responsive readings and a lectionary that led us through the Bible on a 3-year cycle. With structure and symbolism, kneeling and music. I’ve missed it.

So today I took a needed day off from my own church to recharge at a local Episcopal church. It was a more contemporary service than I was used to, but the words of the liturgy were the same and I found I had forgotten none of them. We celebrated Eucharist, with bread instead of wafers and wine instead of grape juice, gathering around the altar. And we were sent forth with these words, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”  I always liked being sent out to do the work of Christ.

Mostly, though, I could simply worship and not have to lead anything. I will not be leaving my current church but I will definitely be back. For I may not belong to an Episcopal church, but I am and will be an Episcopalian.

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Spiritual Life of a Clergy Abuse Survivor

Broken crossFor the last few days, I’ve been obsessively researching spiritual life issues of clergy sexual abuse (CSA) survivors. Why? Because I am one, and because I think my reluctance to go to church now is directly related to my experience. Actually, I know it is, although I didn’t really put the pieces together until the other day.

It happened over 20 years and several states ago, and lasted for almost 3 years. Not intercourse but inappropriate behavior and relationship with someone who was my spiritual advisor. It left me a mess but it wasn’t something I felt safe talking about for seven years, after a particularly horrible case of CSA by a Massachusetts Catholic priest. I read media coverage for months before it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, what they were describing applied to me.

Long story made short – I went to my bishop and worked through my church process to name my abuser, who admitted his actions. And then fought with the church for years to get therapy paid for, and to have the original congregation told. That never happened the way it needed to and he was not defrocked, although I was not the only victim.

Through it all I went to church, sang in the choir, served on the vestry and committees, and even thought I had a call to the ministry. That was squashed by my then-bishop, who later turned out to be an abuser himself. He said I had a problem with authority. I wonder why.

I stopped going to church regularly about 6 years ago. I wanted a break from the choir director I wanted to murder every time he opened his mouth in what felt like abuse. At first it was just weird but it was also almost a physical release to not sit in a pew, listen to the words of the service, sing the hymns. I missed the choral singing that the choir did but that was really about it.

I haven’t been able to make myself to go church for more than a few services here and there over this whole time, and those usually on family visits. So why did I think it would be different for me moving here? I guess it’s just that I’ve always joined a choir and church when I moved to a new place and this is the first time it hasn’t been something that I’ve done or wanted to do.

Church doesn’t feel safe. I don’t trust the clergy, mostly men. My understanding of God as Creator has gotten bigger or just morphed to something more feminine. I haven’t been doing extensive reading or researching to find a spiritual home. I just know that church isn’t it. And I haven’t really grieved the loss.

It was greatly reassuring to talk with a fellow survivor a few days ago, someone who worked through her own abuse case at the same time I did, and have her tell me that it was incredibly normal for me to feel this way, to be having problems with my spiritual life even while other things have gotten better.

All of this is related to eating and being somewhat disconnected from my body. I’m going to just be very gentle with myself right now and try to eat what I need, in moderation, while I spend some time on my inner self, while I’ve neglected.


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What I Believe

Stained glass angelThe mother of one of my colleagues died last weekend. Although I never met her, J told me lots about her mom, both the woman she was and the medical problems she had been facing in the last months.

I went to the wake last night, a little wet around the edges since I went to water aerobics first, and paid my respects to my friend and her family. Wakes make me uncomfortable and are so stilted, yet they are the place where people talk with each other and share memories and verbal support.

This morning was the funeral. I have to admit that, as weird as it sounds, I like funerals. They have a place in the ritual of endings and closure and give the living a place to be comforted with structure and words of faith. Those who attend become The Church in a very concrete way.

When I lived in Boston, my choir sang for quite a number of funerals and I know that liturgy and words of the Episcopal service – but all funeral services are similar. In my tradition, death is named and not turned into euphemistic “passing” which doesn’t fool anyone. It’s important to hear and know both that death is real and that there is life after death.

That is what I believe – that this life is not the end of who we are, that there is a God who is loving and waiting for us when we die. There is no guarantee that life will be easy and being happy and content is up to us. God isn’t going to sit around to strew the path with roses, money and good health.

I believe in free will; God isn’t going to make me do anything or predetermine the choices I make. But He’s not going to prevent bad things from happening, either. What we are promised is that we will not be alone as we walk through our life – and we are not alone in our death, either.

Going to the funeral brought it home again. I was there to be part of the body of Christ, to support my friend and honor her mother. But I was also comforted myself, hearing the familiar words of the lessons and rituals, and singing with a full heart:

I am the bread of life
He who comes to Me shall not hunger
He who believes in Me shall not thirst
No one can come to Me
Unless the Father draw him

And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up on the last day

The bread that I will give
Is My flesh for the life of the world
And he who eats of this bread
He shall live for ever
He shall live for ever

Unless you eat
Of the flesh of the Son of Man
And drink of His blood
And drink of His blood
You shall not have life within you

I am the resurrection
I am the life
He who believes in Me
Even if he die
He shall live for ever

Yes, Lord, we believe
That You are the Christ
The Son of God
Who has come
Into the world

And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up
And I will raise him up on the last day

© 1971 G. I. A. Publications


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Quieted spirit

Stained glassI spend a lot of time fighting with my inner self about who I am, what I need vs. want, whether I’m a good person, how I relate to the world around me. And food, of course. You name it, I’ve had inner dialogues about it.

But one area that has gotten very short-shrift these last few years has been my spiritual life. I stopped going to church when I was ready to murder the choir director every time I saw him; it was somewhat in conflict with the concept of worship. I didn’t know how to worship if I wasn’t sitting in the choir loft after 40 years of singing in church choir. So I just gave myself a little sabbatical that has been extended for about 6 years.

I never stopped believing in God; I was just taking a break from church. It’s time to get off my butt and find a place where I can worship again. I am a choir person to my toes and need to sing – it’s how I worship and a way for me to empty myself of the busyness of the world and relax into knowing there is more than what I see around me. I miss the music but also the community that choir members form so easily. I’m rather isolated now and miss that sense of family that comes with belonging to a choir. Note that the “altopower” of my blog address does not come from playing an instrument; I am an alto and proud of it.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Until 6 years ago, this was a big deal day with heavy-duty music and big service. I wasn’t up for all of that this year, although there are certainly many places where I could slip into a pew and worship. Instead, I started off this morning at the university chapel, sitting with a small group beneath the warm sunlit colors of red and blue in the stained glass windows, saying Morning Prayer and receiving the imposition of ashes.

I didn’t know anyone but that didn’t matter. What mattered to me was the comfort of shared liturgy, the stillness of the place, the chance to hear words of prayer, of scripture, of meditation, and feeling a sense of being home in the quiet.

For me to be a whole person, I can’t just work on my body. My spiritual life needs to be fed and refreshed as well. I exist in one but when I remember that my real self isn’t in the limbs and pounds and physical limits of the body, I can soar and not be alone and find peace.

It’s time to find a choir and a church where I can be all of me again.