Friday, November 07, 2008
Dark moments of hope
I took this the other night at The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston where I was privileged to talk to a group of folk about "Coming Out Christian."
Yes, it is naturally dark in the church, so this picture really doesn't do justice to the beauty of the detail. But, that's not what I wanted to capture in this photo.
St. John's is the very high Anglo Catholic church where I was a seminarian for two years and spent the six months of my ordained life as a deacon. I have always said that I am a missionary from St. John's to the rest of the church.
It was there, at St. John's, Bowdoin Street, that I learned more about the connection between good liturgy done well and the mission and ministry of the church.
It was there that St. John's Senior Action Center was established, for which my beloved wrote the grant and helped to establish the ministry. 'JSAC' augmented and complimented the 'Doorbell Ministry', which had been initiated by the Cowley Fathers.
Eventually, all of the social justice mission and ministry there became known under the umbrella term "Neighborhood Action."
It was also there that the Annual Walk for Hunger originated, and much of the ministry to People with AIDS was done there in the early days of the epidemic, when other churches and funeral homes were refusing to minister to those who had died and those who mourned.
The Cowley's - aka "The Society of St. John the Evangelist" - had established the church as their mission among the Burlesque performers and many of "the domestics" - the poor immigrants who worked and lived there, hidden in and among the shadows of the proper brownstone houses and the beautiful tree lined streets of the Beacon Hill Brahmans.
The Burlesque houses have long since gone and the houses of prostitution have been torn down, but the homeless and the working poor and the prostitutes still live and move and have their being in the neighborhood.
The place is now known as "Government Center" - just a different kind of 'corruption' and another form of 'entertainment'. (Give me a second to wipe up the sarcasm that just dripped all over this post. Okay. I think I got most of it cleaned up now.)
If you ask any of our children about their 'home church' they would not hesitate to say, "St. John's." They loved the 'rag tag' unpretentious nature of the place, which stood in sharp contrast to the sometime precious Anglo-Catholic liturgy.
It was a place where the tension between the harsh realities of our lives and the promise of the beauty of Life Eternal was palpable. Indeed, it was lived out. Daily. In the ministry that went on there and the daily masses and Offices that were faithfully said there.
The architecture and ambiance of the place simply shouted that whoever you are, whoever you thought you were, where ever you were going, you could find a place there, for however long you needed to - or could - stay.
Our eldest daughter, Jaime, loved it there. It was one of her favorite churches. She loved looking up at the reredos above the altar, and the way the crucifixion scene hung above the altar (unfortunately you can't see the altar in this picture).
She loved the sense of mystery and awe it inspired. She especially loved the Black Madonna over to the side of the altar (it was way too dark to take a picture of that). However, it was the statue of St. Joseph, there - up there in the far right of the picture - which always captured her attention.
Indeed, as I recall, one of her assignments for Confirmation Class was to write a paper on St. Joseph. She was, at first, intrigued by the statue and then she became angry that his story isn't as well known or loved as the story of Mary or even any of the other disciples.
I remember her standing with her hand on her hip, tapping her toe petulantly, and saying, "It's just not fair. I mean, God needed Joseph to say, 'yes', too."
Today is the anniversary of her birthday. She would have been 38. She will have been gone four years on December 2nd. She was beautiful and intelligent and feisty and passionate and deeply compassionate. The beauty and the suffering of the world broke her heart in equal measure.
There was a moment, just before the lecture and during the concert in the church, when I began to feel her presence and simultaneously overwhelmed by her loss.
It was also in that moment that I looked up and remembered how Jaime loved this part of the architecture of St. John's. How it comforted her and gave her hope.
And, I felt a sense of peace.
I'm leaving in a bit to spend the day with another daughter who is deeply grieving today. We'll have a late lunch and stop into one of the churches in her neighborhood to light a candle and say a prayer. Perhaps we'll catch a movie. We'll walk and talk and generally keep each other company in our sense of loss and grief.
But it will be this image of St. John's that I take with me. There is great beauty in this world. There is monstrous suffering in this world. Enough of both to break your heart. But as long as we are pointed to the mysteries in this life - the things we can't know - there is hope.
And, where there is hope, there is God. And, where there is God, there is possibility for deep peace and unspeakable joy.
You have to look up to see the sky, but sometimes, you have to reach way down, through dark moments of hope, in order to touch The Star.