uninvited she comes
in burial clothes.
Left to hang
death wraps crack.
Tight folded wings
legs long, and few
The beautiful caterpillar
gone. And now who?
Am I to fly?
There is this beautiful deep down
that is real
like the kaleidoscope
you have broken parts
Quaking, shifting, shaking
who are you
this shape emerging
yet always there
Sometimes I want to join a monastic community. Not because I want to swear off marriage and children. Not because I feel the need to be part of such a community to serve God. Not because I think communities are safe or easy places to live. No, I want to join a monastic community because I long for committed, open, sharing relationships. I’m tired of convenience. I’m tired of eating alone. I’m tired of being the sole possessor of everything I own. I’m tired of my car, my books, my food, my computer, my room, my life.
In college I had a few friends with whom I lived in community. There were many others in my dorm, many others who were close friends. But with these few I shared everything. I do not mean I spilled my guts, told all my secrets, announced all my dreams. I mean we shared books, rice, silverware, canned fruit, scarves, salt . . . I mean I could walk into their room at any time, whether or not they were there, sit on their couch, make tea, lend another friend their spoon. I mean that when one of us had plenty to eat, we all had plenty. When one of us had a tomato and another a cup of rice, we ate our meager feast together. No one kept accounts. No one kept lists of things borrowed. We cooked together, ate together, read books aloud together, sang together. When we moved in separate directions we divided the stuff—not by who had purchased it, not equally, but by who most needed what.
These days I share a divided house. My milk carton is marked with a large HW. I own clothing that only I wear. I use someone else’s cooking utensils, knowing that they belong exclusively to that person. Someone else uses my plates, knowing that those belong to me. I buy Christmas decorations and divide the cost to the penny. It’s been months since someone borrowed my car. It’s been longer since I’ve borrowed someone else’s. Only at church potlucks do I share food and share fellowship over food.
I don’t want to live this way. I want to share. I want to eat common meals. I want to know that I belong in a place, that others belong in the same place, and that none of us are leaving without a really good reason. I want to wash someone else’s laundry; I want someone else to wash my dishes. Or I want to wash someone’s dishes and have someone else wash my laundry. More honestly, I want us to wash our dishes and our laundry. I want an our-life.
Yet, looking at my priorities and habits honestly, I see that I perpetuate the my-life I despise. Sharing was easier when I was poor. There was less to let go of, less to lose. Sharing a car (though it be a well-used 2001 model), feels riskier than sharing my last zucchini. And rearranging my schedule to share meals is far more complicated now that I own a car. It’s easier to grab a bite on my way out the door. It’s easier to live a separate life. Easier. But much less fulfilling.
How do I step out of this individualized life? How do I eat with others, share belongings and join in a common song? How do I let go of the need to possess, to account, to receive equal amounts, to pay only my portion? How do I do that as a single woman in a culture that expects me to make a life for myself? In a culture that says that only married couples hold all things in common with one another [maybe], that only families eat together regularly [maybe], how do I, a single woman, find community? How do I live, not as a single woman, but as a celibate woman in community?
It’s seven in the morning. Not quite awake, I enter the chapel. I dip my hand in the holy water and cross myself. The familiar words begin:
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness . . .
“Let us confess our sins . . . “
Why am I here again? Why am I repeating these words yet again?
I came from a church tradition that fears empty repetition, insists all prayer be spontaneous, and belittles ceremony. This service of all services, the morning and evening, day after day repetition of confessions, creeds, prayers, psalms—this service is the most foreign to my upbringing. Yet it is most familiar.
As a child I lived in Turkey and attended Turkish schools. There I experienced ritual, ceremony, and repetition. Every morning I stood at attention with hundreds of children in the schoolyard—with millions of children in schoolyards across the country—and recited The Oath. “I am a Turk! I am upright! I am diligent! . . .” Day after day, week after week, year after year . . . The words were woven into the fabric of my being. What began as a required recitation of uncomprehended words became the expression of my identity, in particular, of my identity as one of a People.
Holy Week 2013. In Vigil I would become a member of the church. As the disciplines of Lent opened my heart, I heard a drastic call: the call to shift my identity from Turkey to Holy Church. I wrestled with the call. My very identity was being torn out of me. Would I accept this death? Deep within I accepted, yet continued to wrestle. How would this new identity look? What was I being called to? How would Holy Church ever become the very warp and woof of my life, the People of my identity? As I cried and prayed my way through Holy Week, the Lord brought a gentle answer to my questions: daily office.
Through daily words and ceremony I became of Turkey; through daily words and ceremony I am becoming of Church. The Oath shaped my identity; the Creed and The Lord’s Prayer reshape my identity.
That is why I am here at seven in the morning. That is why I stand and kneel, say the words, pray the prayers, hear the Scriptures. Some days I stumble through, barely awake. Some days my lips form words I cannot say through my tears. Some days I feel nothing and my distracted mind wanders to trees and chores and intricacies of the HVAC system. Some days I am fully present, drinking in the beauty of God’s presence. I would love to experience all days fully present. But, in a way, whether I do doesn’t matter. Whether I feel it or not, whether I can focus on it or not, whether I can understand it or not, the ritual of the daily office transforms me through its sheer daily-ness.
I stand and proclaim, “I believe in one God . . . I believe in Jesus Christ . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy, catholic Church . . .” And I know: I belong in Church.