Monday, December 23, 2013

"Our Story Living Love in Wisdom's Embrace", "As If a Birth Was Happening" Newly Ordained Priest Mary Sue Barnett and Deacons Betty Smith and Denise Davis Celebrate Inclusive Catholic Liturgy in Louisville, Kentucky,

Articles about Liturgy by Deacon Denise Davis, ARCWP and Deacon Betty Smith, ARCWP
I must admit that I began the day of December 21st a bit melancholy - the eve of my daughter’s 21st birthday, I couldn’t help but admit that my beautiful baby girl was no longer mine alone. As birthdays sometimes do, that day was simply telling me it was time to finally admit  that, surely, as the lovely adult she has grown into, she belongs to the world. So, I turned my energy and efforts to the liturgy we were holding that night - the first that would bring the priestly ministries of Mary Sue Barnett to the world, ministries accompanied by the new ARCWP deacons, Betty Smith and I. And oh, what a liturgy that was!

We began as we so often do with a simple statement about an aspect of our practice, and then a contemplative invitation. That night’s statement emphasized our awareness of the Christian call to our universal priesthood, one, we told them, we would honor through three means. First,  when the words of consecration were spoken, community members - not the ordained present - would raise the plates and cups in the center of our celebration. Second, all present would raise their own hands and speak those words always reserved for the male clergy alone. Third, all would also act as ministers, distributing the bread and wine to each other, to everyone present. We told them we do those things for one simple reason: through our universal priesthood we are called to become transformational people. Together, we transform the bread and wine. Together we are called to be transformed by the bread and wine. Together, we bring that transformational power to the world, where it is so desperately needed. Our contemplative meditation was a simple one ending with this simple reminder - that, in being in our celebration that night, they were “nowhere, but now here,” their breaths intermingling into one beautiful symbol of unity.

A most sublime and sweet soprano voice then broke the silence with the familiar words, “Oh, come all ye faithful…” Within seconds, our community joined in, filling our beautiful space with song. Sitting in two concentric circles, we faced each other, all visible to the other. Two simple music stands were placed opposite each other, within the outer rim of the circle so that all were truly included. Within the circle’s middle stood three tables on which our bread and wine were resting. Two candles, standing amidst pine greens, alone, functioned as decoration. Surely, within that holy, precious space, nothing else was needed. As the song finished, Mary Sue began the liturgy with these words….

“In the name of the One who births all that is, and of Jesus - love’s Incarnation, and of the Holy Spirit, our Liberator…”

communicating so powerfully that we are a people who seek our Living God, the One who lies beyond any single specific image or name, the One who is forever surprising us. And so, we continued. A blend of male and female voices spoke the prayers and read throughout our liturgy that included a reading from Sirach and another from St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. And, maybe, for the first time ever, everyone present heard the Magnificat spoken as Gospel in a woman’s voice. The opening of Mary Sue’s homily touched us all. After reminding us of her recent experience in CPE at a nearby trauma hospital she said this…..

“I have been present to individuals and families who cry out loud for a miracle.
The cries are filled with passion and seem to reverberate into the vastness of the night skies.
To be human and to cry out in grief is to know what it is like to be little. It is a contingency experience. "I am suffering. I am afraid. I want a miracle!”
She went on to remind us that on this Christmas Eve, “Wisdom  will be waiting.
You are Her beloved,” Mary Sue reminded us, “and She desires to be in dialogue with you.
And in this darkest day of the year, let us imagine what it would be like to join one another on Wisdom's path to traverse the diverse rooms and the lands for those who suffer:
----in hospital rooms
----in inner city violence
----in shelters
-----on the streets
-----in psychiatric wards
-----in halfway houses
----in brothels
----in isolation
-----in the bleakness of depression.”
Her closing words told us why it is so imperative that we listen:
“This is Wisdom Incarnate. This is the Christ breaking into the mystery of today's winter solstice, who is taking up residence in a beloved city, who grows tall like a cedar, who fills out with glorious blossoms the weeping cherry tree and who gives forth to all her sacred fragrance. Let us participate fully in the human cries for miracles and let us compose our own songs of liberation and healing where the sounds of Wisdom reverberate from Zion forever!” Silence then filled us all as those words of such deep insight and compassion resonated through us.

And then, after communion, that sweet soprano sang, this time alone,  the first verse of the beloved hymn, Silent Night. When she paused, Betty’s voice became audible, speaking words that Mary might have said that first night after all others had fallen asleep. “Joseph,” she began, “Joseph, are you awake?”  As her gentle voice continued, I couldn’t help but become aware of our own place within that sanctuary. Now past sunset, I could see through the windows, streetlights just then blinking on. Faint sounds of traffic in the distance reminded me that the world was still moving, but in that space, there within that circle, well, I was experiencing so much of what Betty was revealing of Mary’s experience.

While Mary was asking Jesus how she was to give Him, God’s miracle to her, what He needed, I was wondering what I could give to those with me as I accept this ministry, one I consider God’s miracle to me. Oh, I know my intentions are good, but I strongly suspect that, as an “ordained minister,” it is not I who will always be the one to give and guide. More than likely, it will be these people with whom I share a universal call to priesthood who will be giving and teaching me so much. Like Mary, I am humbled to be in such a place. Like Mary, I know, I have only love, really, to give.

As Betty’s voice faded, and our soprano - Betty’s granddaughter Sabrina actually - began again, we all realized that it was time for our liturgy to end. Mary Sue offered our communion closing prayer, and then our concluding rite began, culminating with a mutual blessing. With energy and enthusiasm, we sang our closing song, “Joy to the World.” And, then, of course, it was time to depart. Oh, how warmly people received our work. More than one told me how much they appreciated the sense of inclusion, the ability to truly participate throughout the liturgy, the fact that even a young boy could give his own mother the bread. A long-time community member hugged me warmly, telling me that our albs were “icing on her Christmas cake,” inspiring her because, in her eyes, those simple garments were symbols of the fiats the three of us had made. In claiming our ordination, she explained, we were saying yes to God in spite of opposition, in spite of what others might say. And so, in seeing those symbols, she is inspired to speak her own personal yes to God as well regardless of whatever opposition or dismay she may need to face as she claims her own role within our kin-dom.

As I sat in my car that night, alone, ready to drive home, I thought again of my daughter’s birth so many years ago. On December 21, 1992, I had spent that night anticipating her new life, hoping that all would go well with her delivery and then, of course, through all the years that followed. Well, here I was, 21 long years later, aware that another birth had just occurred, so sweetly timed with hers. Oh my….. what a mystery in which we live. I can only say….

“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant….”

AS if a "Birth Was Happening" by Deacon Betty Smith, ARCWP
Our whole process of getting ready was as if a "Birth" was happening.  Mary Sue, Denise and I met several times for long sessions of planning, exchanging, and preparing during a "gestation" time.   We were "fertile" with ideas and blessings during the preparations.  Our white albs would be worn in the "birthing place" as a symbol of our commitment to our ministry, (as drs. and nurses do in hospitals).  We felt "stirrings" of happiness and, yes, gleefulness, as we thought out each word and place-to-be in our church.  As Mary Sue retreated to a place of quiet, Denise and I set up the room, moving heavy chairs in two circles so all could "be in the event", pulling and placing tables for the nativity event, "laboring" as we prepared to "deliver" our Liturgy.    As friends and families began to arrive, they were greeted by all three of us.  Rosie was busy with so many behind-the-scene actions: bringing in greens for the tables,, getting the vessels ready for communion, laying out information about our future liturgies.  I had spent time with my granddaughter, Sabrina Wellendorff, going over the music and timing of the "onset" of our piece together.  As Denise invited all of us to "breathe" and "be", our parenting began.  Mary Sue, Denise and I were too humbled by what took place during the readings of the Words, Communion, sweet music,  and birthing celebration to do any more than look at each other in solidarity and sisterhood and smile.
Birthing with Mother Sophia was as powerful for me as when I gave birth to my four children.  God knows how powerful that is. 
Merry and happy holy days,

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