Monday, June 15, 2020

One Body, Many Voices by Rev. Dr. Barbara Billey, Priest ARCWP Heart of Compassion Faith Community, Windsor, ON, Canada (15 June 2020)

Picture by Judy Chappus, artist

Since January 2020, I've been helping ARCWP bishop Michele Birch-Conery write her memoir. I'm fascinated by the precision with which she recalls narratives going as far back as her early childhood.
I'm a poor historian. My mind mostly moves in fast-forward with more ideas that I'd like to manifest than my entire life will allow. My Mom was like this, too. She would ask about our plans for Christmas during our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in mid-October. Before she died from cancer two years ago, I would ask her to tell me stories about my childhood, but she could only remember a few, like the time I didn't follow her command to stay away from the wringer washing machine (now I'm dating myself).
An ever precocious child, Mom was on the phone with a friend when I decided to see what would happen if I inserted the wet clothes into the wringer, as I had seen her do. Mom heard my screams and came running to my rescue soon after my left arm was being dragged along with the clothes into the vice grip of the wringer. This memory is sketched into my body as a skin graft under my arm. Other than this memory, Mom would usually make general statements like, "You were always ahead of your time: six years old going on sixteen.
As I approach July first, the second anniversary of her death, memories of Mom flash into my awareness in unexpected moments or as a visitation by her in dreams in the middle of the night. I feel pleasure in these recollections, sometimes grief and sorrow. I miss her.
In Deuteronomy (8:2-3, 14-16), Moses reminds his people of the hardships they had endured after their exodus from Egypt and the constancy of God with them. He tells them that they cannot live by bread alone, but "by every word that comes from the mouth of our God" (Deut. 8:3 ). In John's Gospel in the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus invites His companions to be nourished by Him: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst again" (6:35). Now as the Word made flesh we are reminded of our encounter with the Divine through Jesus.
Jesus also reminds us, "The person who takes this bread for her food will live from generation to generation" (Jn. 6:58b). Each time we share communion as the Body of Christ we are embedded in generations of tradition. At the epiclesis, we invoke the Holy Spirit to transform bread and wine, fruit of the earth and labor of our hands, into the "real presence" of Jesus, the Risen Christ. We are also praying for change in us. As Jesus did at His last meal with his friends on Passover, we say, "Do this in memory of me" (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). This is a dangerous memory. Why?
In our Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement we realize the wholeness of the Sacrament of Word and Eucharist because all are welcome and no one is excluded because of gender, race, nationality, class, education, age, ability or sexual orientation. This is not true of the institutional, Roman Catholic Church. How then, can the "real presence" be present when not all are welcome to be fully present?
For many women and persons who are non-Catholic, non-believers or LBGTQIS, sacramental events in the institutional Church are occasions for profound segregation and alienation, far from the intended celebration of unity within diversity, as explicated by St. Paul. Our baptism, beginning in the early Church, acknowledges the full potential of women and all persons to live the new life of the Risen One. Through the gifts of Spirit, we fulfill the promise of our Creator as imaging this Divinity in our day-to-day human experience. How is this possible when the patriarchal system in which our sacraments are confected, solely by the privilege of a male priest, makes Word and Eucharist politically and socially oppressive?
If there is one grace from the Covid-19 pandemic it is our longing for connection and community. Our Heart of Compassion Faith Community has recently agreed to a radical vision where Word and Eucharist can truly nurture - all of us. Zoom technology has afforded us the opportunity to connect weekly and to unfold an experiment called Word, Wisdom and Communion.
In our Community's vision, all persons are welcome as spiritual leaders, whether ordained or non-ordained, believer or non-believer, Christian or another tradition. We flatten the hierarchy and denounce clericalism. Jeni Marcus and Karen Kerrigan from Southeastern, Michigan are also arcwp priests with us.
My sacrament of Holy Orders is expressed through being in collaboration with others to create encounters with the Sacred. I call myself a Weaver priest who promotes the empowerment of our spiritual leaders. This may take numerous forms such as being a consultant regarding scripture; offering suggestions about sacred arts; typing a celebration guide; being a Zoom moderator; and praying always.
Word is shared as scripture, a poem, a song, a video clip or a piece of art. Wisdom is a valuing of all voices in response to the movement of our hearts in relation to the Word. Communion is shared equally by all voices during the entire celebration, especially in the epiclesis and memorial meal, with each person (not only the priest) making the liturgical gestures of lifting bread and cup. Some spiritual leaders may choose to favor an expression of Communion that is different than the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Rite or exclude this all together, under the assumption that when we gather we are symbolically in communion. Imagine the creativity and vast expressions of prayer that will be ushered in by our diversity. This is already evident!
Yesterday, I saw a sign while driving on the expressway. On top and at the bottom of capital letters 'JUNE 27' were the words 'A Miracle'. The smallest word in black at the bottom right corner of the sign was 'Unity'. I had seen this sign elsewhere earlier in the day. I wondered what the scripture reading is for June 27, the afternoon when our Community gathers for our Word, Wisdom, Communion celebration. I was overjoyed to read that Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me" (Matt. 10: 40 ). My husband later told me that on June 27 people are asked to put a can of food on their doorstep that will be picked up by volunteers and donated to food banks. Record collections of cans have occurred in other communities where this event has taken place.
We in our Heart of Compassion Faith Community are in miracles now. As we continue to deepen into our vision, I will forever remember this moment in our seven-year history as a time of becoming one body, many voices.

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