If you felt a cosmic shift over the weekend that seemed to hint at the end of days, or if you saw that guy in the photo and wondered what the deal was, I blame myself. I got confirmed into the Episcopal Church on Saturday. Up until I told PW a few weeks ago that I wanted to be confirmed, the craziest thing she had ever heard me say was, “I think we should get a mini-van.”
To give you some appreciation for how ridiculously unexpected this is, several of PW’s colleagues on the cathedral staff joked with us about my imminent confirmation. One guy said, “It’s a good thing I updated my will! Although, who needs a will if we’re all goners?!”
What precipitated this breach in the sea wall of my denominational contrariness? Initially, it was the notion that the retired bishop Barbara C. Harris was going to be doing the confirmations. The first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara Harris has never stopped being a titan of agitation, calling bigotry and injustice by their names whenever and wherever she encounters them. For a whole host of reasons, the opportunity to kneel in front of her while she put her hands on my head and blessed me seemed too good to pass up.
Pretty quickly I realized that my groupie approach to confirmation probably wasn’t the right angle to take. As impetus, it was fine, but it didn’t seem like the right approach to making a commitment. Confirmation IS a commitment, after all. By the time the news came that more than 100 people were getting confirmed on May 22, I had already concluded that no matter who confirmed me, the important thing was to throw my lot in with this imperfect, sometimes heart-breaking, organization that is the Episcopal Church. Bishop Barbara Harris has strengthened and inspired so many people around the world — especially women, queers, and minorities — to persevere and keep our integrity in the face of all sorts of institutional and societal pressures to give up, give in, or get out. If she could say Yes to the church, I decided, then I can say Yes, too.
Crazy as it may sound, I think the church needs a whole lot more people like me, whether it wants us or not, if it’s going to keep ministering to and standing up on behalf of what Bishop Barbara has long referred to as “the least, the lost and the left out.” This 10-minute interview clip is a great example of Bishop Barbara’s voice, vision, and vigor, and offers a tiny glimpse into why I admire her so much.
I anticipated bursting into tears the moment Bishop Barbara’s hands came to rest on my head, and as PW’s hands rested on my shoulders. Instead, I felt an almost indescribable moment of perfect stillness and openness as Bishop Barbara intoned in her sweet, gravelly voice:
Defend, O Lord, your servant Audrey Joy, with your heavenly grace, that she may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until she comes to your everlasting kingdom.
When she was done speaking, she moved her hands to my cheeks and tilted my head up so that our eyes met. She smiled at me, patted me on the face and said, “God bless you.” Now if that isn’t a well-worn phrase, I don’t know what is. But as her words poured over me, with my face in her hands, I understood something new about how being blessed feels.
To say that I was already a spirited human being before Saturday is probably a bit of an understatement. One of my confirmation sponsors wrote to me beforehand:
“I don’t know whether Barbara Harris will use the words ‘…..and daily increase in your Spirit more and more….’ but they make me think of you and the fact that you have a ton of Spirit going in to it and it’s fun to contemplate the idea that you might have even more coming out.”
All I know right now is that I really like saying Yes to the invitation to explore what it means to be “more and more” spirited, as opposed to Maybe, or One of These Days, or No Way. I’ve used all those other answers before, and they felt right at the time. What feels right at this time is Yes. I don’t think that saying Yes means that I know things I didn’t know before, or that I’m more restricted than I was before on account of my new denominational affiliation. Saying Yes is my way of telling the Episcopal Church, “I’m in, so get ready!”
We’ll go out today with this great Steve Earle song, sung by Joan Baez. The first time I heard this, I thought, “That’s it!” There are several other videos available of her singing this song, but I like this version for this post because of what looks like the work she’s doing to interpret words that come out of HIS experience of addiction and recovery. I love her vulnerability here, and I love his admiration of her, and I love the raggedy journey they take together to give us this way of saying Yes.
Update on September 2, 2010: Sony removed the video above, so I’m substituting this one: