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Saturday, June 09, 2018

It is well with my soul

Photo credit: Christopher Waddell 

 Yesterday afternoon, St. John's Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School was deconsecrated.  

The picture above is of former Dean Frank Fornaro and Alumnus Harry Walton carrying out the "Philadelphia Cross" from the newly deonsecrated chapel.  

For those of us who were shaped and formed theologically and liturgically in that sacred place, the image is almost too much to bear.  It is tempting to see it as a manifestation of a line in the Gospel lesson appointed for tomorrow. (Mark 3:29)

This morning, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. A thunderstorm is predicted this afternoon. The laundry is getting done, the floors are being mopped, and later in the day - hopefully before the rain and thunder and lightening begin - the marketing will be done. 

Life does, in fact, go on. 

So does the heart, as the theme from the Titanic sings to us in impossible, soaring notes. 

It is important, however, between the death and the days before the resurrection, to spend at least a few quiet days in the Upper Room with other disciples.

Statue in tribute to Jonathan Daniel ouside St. John's Chapel
 A long, long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, a bishop once said to me, "It is better to have people say 'Bad decision' than 'Bad process'".

I think - from everything I've been able to glean- that his was the right - not good, but correct, albeit painful - decision. (* See note below.)

But, holy boy-howdy, was that a doozie of a bad process.

Indeed, the process was so bad that those of us who come from formative process that were built on a framework of shame and blame have been handed a veritable toxic feast on which to dine for at least a few decades.

The bulk of the 'shame and blame' has been assigned, of course, to the decision-makers. I did read a posting on FB from one alumus (who has always been a jackass so I don't know why I would expect anything different from him) who blamed it on the alums. 

I laughed right out loud when I read that. Could there seriously be a more blatant example of the need to 'shame and blame'?

The particulars and details of the decision-making process are not known to me - and, at this point, they don't even matter - but even from my distant vantange point of Rehoboth Bay, DE, there can be no other conclusion drawn from the events in Cambridge, MA than this body of "TRUST-ees" betrayed every single last damn operating principle that shaped and formed the scholars and students of the academic community known as The Episcopal Divinity School. 

And, and, and, and AND, it doesn't take a genius to understand what might have been the myriad of reasons to throw one's hands up in the air and decide that closing the school in its present incarnation was the only reasonable, sensible thing to do.

I have absolutely no doubt that the cost of rehabing the buildings - just the asbestos removal alone - would have financially bankrupted the school the nanosecond after the buildings stood there, all shiny and newly rehabed until the next 200 years took their eventual toll.

It's easy to play all sorts of mind-games around this. The "What if's" and the "Yes, buts" and the "What abouts". 

And, there will always be 'that person' who knows someone who knows someone who was in the room when it happened who reports, with absolute confidence, some piece of information which s/he thinks would have made all the difference it the world had it been made more widely known.

It doesn't. Not now. Not to the pain. Not to the grief.

It reminds me of what medical intuitive Caroline Myss calls "The Judas Effect".
She says that whenever we place our trust in the institution rather than the Divinity, it will drive us to madness which leads to a kind of 'spiritual suicide', resulting in killing off some vital, important part of ourselves.

In my more generous moments, I'd like to think that the Board of TRUST-ees chose to put their trust in the Divine than the institution. That would help explain their decision to sell off the buildings in Cambridge and take the endowment to the Upper West Side of New York City where The Episcopal Divinity School will start the manifestation of a new life there with the venerable Union Theological School and be known as "EDS@Union".

That's not so unlike what Berkely Divinity School did with Yale. Or,  the merger in 2012 of Bexley Hall Seminary in Ohio with Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago to become, creatively enough, "Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Federation (or just "Bexley Seabury)".

Other Episcopal Seminaries are already taking note. Which is wise. Some put on a brave public face but the whispers of life support grow stronger by the day.

What is happening at seminaries is a reflection of what has been happening for some decades now in parishes and congregations around the country.

You know exactly what I'm talking about. Perhaps it has happened to you in your church. I know some folks who have moved from one closed church only to find that the one they moved to also closed after five years. 

And, not just in The Episcopal Church. The Institutional Church is shrinking. That ought not come as a surprise to anyone.

It has become its own enemy, existing to support itself and not the mission of Jesus, feeding on its own mediocrity and not striving for excellence, investing more in hierarchy than the people in the pews, following its own mind and not quieting its own mind and rather, seeking the mind of Christ.

The Body of Christ, however, is alive and well. It is resurrecting itself in new ways. We are here - out in the world. We are alive and well and living in ecumenical and interfaith movements like "Repairers of the Breach" and "The Poor People's Campaign," "Black Lives Matter Movement" and "The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence", "The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" and "The National Alliance to End Homelessness."

I could name more - lots more - but you get the gist. 

It's all the ways EDS taught us to be The Body of Christ in the wold.

That picture of two men carrying the cross out of the deconsecrated chapel would be absolutely devastating if that cross ends up gathering dust in some storeage unit somewhere. 

If, however, that cross is being taken out into the world to proclaim the promise of hope in the face of despair, well, it would be well with my soul to know that faith in the Resurrection lives on. 

Meanwhile, there are more than a few faithful who are milling around in the Upper Room, nursing our hurts, subduing our anxieites and fears, trying to figure out what to to do next, what to make of it all, what it all means for us and for our future. 

Here's what I know to be true about grief, these two things:
(1) There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is just your way.

(2) The only "cure" for grief is to grieve.

And, those two things affect: 
(1) Your perspective of what once was

(2) Your vision of what might be.

In times of grief and sorrow, it's important for me to remind myself of these things and to know that I am not alone in that Upper Room.

And, as hokey as it sounds, it is nevertheless true: The heart will go on.
The heart of EDS lives in my heart. 

It may be EDS@Union, but it is also EDS@me.

As Bishop Carol Gallagher sang at the end of her brilliant and pastoral sermon for The Service of Deconsecration of St. John's Chapel, The Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well

With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

And,  let the church, the Body of Christ which lives in the world and lives in me, say


You might be interested to read a wee bit of the history of St. John's Chapel. 

And, here are a few more pictures of that amazing place from "Boston's Hidden Sacred Spaces"

You might also find this essay by Caroline Myss helpful: "The First Mystical Law: There Is Only Now." in which, among other gems, she notes:
"The consciousness of present time allows you to keep your memories, but they can no longer hold you hostage, so they can no longer drain you of your energy, which inevitably drains you of your health. The need to let others know you feel entitled to attention because of your pain and suffering is very seductive and releasing the entitlement of the suffering self is more a battle with the shadow of your own pride that it is with anyone else."
* One of the questions on my GOE exams what "What is the difference between the right and the good". I wrote for pages and pages and pages. One of my classmates wrote, simply, "God is good and the bishop is right."


Mark Harris said...

Great posting...(as always). Death, grieving, moving on. Right order. I have sometimes mistakenly taken to grieving what is part of moving on (EDS@Union) as if it was meant to be some sort of resuscitation deal. It’s not. EDS@Union is its own thing. There may be a resurrection of hope, that being what moving on entails, but that is different from thinking that the new entity is the old one recast. I’m ready to see what EDS@Union can do, but I have few illusions that it will be in any way a continuation of the EDS of the past. I hope EDS@Union is a useful connection between Union’s fine work and Anglicans studying there. I hope EDS@Union will do the sort of justice and anti-racism work it sets out to do. Meanwhile, I went to an institution that no longer exists, except in the heart of thankfulness for blessings received and given.

Thanks again for the posting. M

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - As a fellow alum and as a fellow pilgrim and seeker of justice, I hope you know how much I value your opinion. I hope I have made myself clear that I, too, don't expect EDS@union to be EDS recast. That would betray the very nature of death and resurrection. The resurrected Jesus is The Christ. Once fully human and fully divine, now fully divine. Very different.

I have no illusion that EDS@Union is "fully divine" - more human, perhaps - but I am very clear that it is very different from the EDS I knew. Heck, the EDS I knew was very different from the EDS you once knew. EDS has been different for each generation. Thanks be to God.

Having a womanist theologian as Dean pretty much ensures - in my mind, at least - that the work of anti-racism and justice will continue to be at the heart of what EDS@union sets out to do. I am excited by the possibilities that the school that has undergone two major transformations will continue to be a vehicle of transformation for others who will be leaders - laity and ordained - in the church and the world.

Meanwhile, both the seminary I attended and the church which was so formative to my understanding of the connections between liturgy and justice (St. John's, Bowdoin St) are both gone. Except as they live on in me.

Even though I am sad, I am deeply blessed and even more grateful.