My family normally gathers for Memorial Day weekend, which used to be the weekend of the dance recital for my sister and I. we have long since stopped having dance recitals, but the cousins and aunts and uncles still come out of the city (mostly New York Metro area) to spend the weekend in Vermont. Past years we have gone on hikes or to the movies, but this year we painted.
My increidibly talented younger sister was our official photographer for the weekend (and these shots are courtesy of her), and was also able to lend a hand in her soon-to-be professional area of expertise. Ru is halfway through her medical studies to become a doctor of chiropractic, and about a dozen people painting a house are in great need of adjustments and massages. It was wonderful to have her be able to give the gift of her particular skill, and I didn’t even really have to be jealous.
Sure, as I’ve said before, halfway through *my* master’s degree, I could write my own prayers and she can relieve people of long-held physical pain, but everyone’s gift is special. Plus, I’m really good at detail work like painting trim.
But it seems there was another gift I was to offer.
My extended family, in which we now include both my husband and my brother in law, runs the religious spectrum from devout Catholic to former Catholic, from former would-be-nun to spiritual agnostic, to atheist, with some Lutherans and a wacky United Methodist pastor thrown in the middle. Church Sunday morning is always a bit of a challenge, as people pick their sides (there’s a Catholic carpool and a Methodist one), children waffle about whether or not to attend their parents’ choice of church or assert their independent religious views, and we all try to meet up for brunch.
Add to that particular drama the fact that I had specifically left my own church for the weekend so I wouldn’t have to subject myself to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and the minor detail that a bunch of people didn’t want to give up the cool morning hours of painting to rush into town for church.
So I was asked to hold church at the house. And I did.
After a campfire-side consultation with my youngest cousin, I selected a passage from John 14 as my text, because it contains one of my least favorite passages from the gospels: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to God but by me.” I shared some of my struggles with John 14:6 and the way it seems to be so condemning of other faiths or paths. I also shared some context for the statement (some of which I gleaned from Borg, and discuss toward the end of an earlier post), which, read against the absolute claim of the first century Temple priests to be the One Way to God, may in fact be a liberating message: I am the way, says Christ, not those priests and their expensive, exclusive rituals. You don’t need their rites and their permission to approach God. You just need me.
I then invited my family to join in a favorite ritual of mine, the Organic Altar. This is something we did a lot in the women’s center in seminary at our retreats and things, but I didn’t name it the Organic Altar until my third year when I was in charge of a huge worship service for a conference and nothing went according to plan and nothing got done when it was supposed to, so we started calling it organic, as in still living, as in not at all planned ahead of time. Not surprisingly, those organic moments are when the Spirit seems to break through most powerfully.
Anyway, for the Organic Altar, each person is invited to place an object of significance on the altar. It might be a piece of jewelry or a picture or something they carry with them; it might be something they find in the space around them (in this case we were outside), but it has to be something that communicates God or Sacred or Importance to them. Then, of course, we share what these objects represent for us, how they are part of finding and living the Way.
We closed with a meal of remembrance, because I couldn’t actually call it communion, and then we sang the first verse of Amazing Grace, because we all knew it.
So I did lead worship on Sunday, and I did give of my particular gift. I was proud and blessed at the same time.