Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Diversity of God: Ash Wednesday, Lent and Beyond

I've had three experiences recently that have left me contemplating the incomprehensible, all-encompasing and totally inclusive diversity of She Who Is. Some have been good experiences, others have been bad. They are shaping my Lent, so I thought I'd write about them.

The first of these moments was on Ash Wednesday. I was in a shitty mood, and really not in the right mindset for repentance or solemnity. I was at the start of this sudden increase in pain I've been having recently, and it was making me cranky. I sat at the front, in front of the pew (as my church, accessible as it is, doesn't have a good space for wheelchairs). Another wheelchair user, in a big bulky powerchair, joined me up there. We had a conversation about the pros and cons of electric wheelchairs. I wasn't very up for the chat, though, as I was having a bit of an anti-crip day. If I remember correctly, I'd spent the day trying to find some way to talk to other disabled people about pain and impairment, and I felt judged for it. As I often do. Pain can be a taboo subject among some disabled activists - absolutely not all, but a few - since it really isn't very social model. I'd been feeling like I was trying to fit models, moulds and modes of being that I didn't fit into. Yet again, a square peg for a round hole. Not welcome in either the non-disabled or the disabled world. (All of this is my perception, and may not all be reality. That isn't the point, though. What's important is that I felt this way.) It had got so bad that I was really missing the times before the wheelchair when I could melt into crowds and be invisible - all I wanted was to be healthy and sitting at the back of the church, not the front. And then I felt guilty for that trechery against my community, too. Lovely vicious cycle, there.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return...

And then little things began to come together. I couldn't tell you exactly what it was. Part of it was the priest speaking movingly about a family member's death in his sermon. A big part of it was the Ash Wednesday liturgy with the ashes on the forehead that symbolise death, mortality, suffering, repentance, commitment. Some people might find the Ash Wednesday service quite depressing. Not when it's closer to your reality than anything else you've experienced in ages, though. I got the distinct sense that God was pointing out to me (with infinite, slighty amused patience - I'm a slow learner) that She has more than enough room for my pain (and my shitty mood, and my determination to ignore everyone around me, and my lack of gratitude for everything good in my life, and my pissed-off-ness at the bus driver who'd called me Wheelchair and his ridiculously steep bus ramp, and my pain again). Immense, incomprehensible Diversity. Bigger than any limited concept of inclusiveness that my little mind can conceive.

The second experience was in a Quaker meeting that I went to at the weekend. I've been to a couple of Quaker meetings before, and enjoyed them. They're meditative, reverent and personal settings for experiencing the mystery of God. I'm impressed by the holiness of the lifestyles of the Quakers that I meet - whose commitment to peace, to activism for and with the oppressed, to protecting the planet, to a God who accepts all people regardless of sexuality or other unimportant issues, puts my limited understanding of God to shame. Yet Quaker meetings are as far from my brand of worship as you can get. I find God in symbols and images, in ritual and liturgy, in communion and communal response. They do none of these things. God within each of us is all that they need. Though it's not my style, I admire that so much. We're all children of the same very Diverse God. It's amazing how wide a range of beliefs and styles and choices that Diversity can encompass.

The third incident was this evening. I won't say much about it, because I've gone on too long. But I was faced with someone whose views on God and His (this person's God is definitely a 'He') ways would have left me feeling guilty, pointless, unwelcome and discriminated against in the past. But I didn't need to persuade him (although of course I tried *grin*) of my reality, of the Diversity of my God. It was enough that God was quietly reminding me throughout to be grateful that I am starting to learn something of how massive, broad and all-encompassing She is, and that I have a church home where I am encouraged in this aspect of my journey of faith. I have a long way to go, but I'm so glad I didn't get 'turned off' God by those who tried to persuade me that there is only one way to understand God. I would really have missed out.

This Lent I celebrate my own welcome into the Diversity of God by trying to understand something of how utterly massive it is, and I repent of my stubborn inability to see Her in everything and everyone. Even bus drivers. Even faceless bureaucrats. Even irritating managers. Even those who don't make room for others and their individual forms of faith. Even Evangelicals. While I have the greatest respect for those who don't believe in God (and I love a good debate with them about faith and related matters), I'm so glad that my journey has taken me towards a greater understanding of the incomprehensible One, not away from it. Here's to the rest of that journey.

In mostly-unrelated news, can I just make an impassioned request to everyone who ever talks to me in person? I have been told FOUR TIMES today that I "look really well". There is no good answer to this one, people. I could depress you and say "Actually, I feel utterly appalling, can barely put one foot in front of the other, am in more pain than I've had to experience for about a year and don't know why, am generally really living up to the 'invisible' part of the phrase 'invisible condition', and please could you be so good as to call an ambulance if I pass out." Or I could smile and nod and say "Thanks", and feel absolutely awful about it. I usually do the latter. Don't make me. Cheers.


D Phoenix said...

I'm really enjoying reading your site/your journey. I haven't really been in touch with my spiritual side for quite a few years now. I'm too sick right now to make it out to a synagogue or the like, and I find it hard to manage to raise up belief and faith on my own. I guess I don't disbelieve, but I don't ACTIVELY believe, if you know what I mean. Your impressions moved me.

As far as the "but you look so good" routine, I get that a lot. Sometimes, if I know the person well enough I will say that I am surprised given that I feel really crappy. I haven't yet come up with a good come back to this one. "At least I've got that much..." seems way too smarmy, but I do find myself using it.

Naomi J. said...

Donimo: Thanks! That's so sweet :)

I guess I don't disbelieve, but I don't ACTIVELY believe, if you know what I mean.

Yes, I can relate to that a lot. I've had years when I've had to put faith into the backgroun and deal with other things, because I couldn't deal with community religion. I think God understands.

You're Jewish? That's cool. My g/f is - she's only sort of semi-practising (for cultural reasons, rather than faith-related ones). I'm learning a lot about the religion from her. It's a beautiful one. Good luck in your own faith journey - I'd love to discuss it with you sometime.

D Phoenix said...

I'm not Jewish but my partner is. Besides visiting my neighbour's Catholic church when I was wee and later, as a teenager, twice attending services at a friend's Alliance church, that was the extent of my group faith experiences. My partner and I started going to a renewal synagogue near our home and found it quite lovely. We didn't find the congregation as welcoming as we had hoped. They have a new Rabi now who is supposed to be cool, so maybe we'll try. It's tough though because I am SUCH a wreck in the morning and haven't been in any shape to attend. I would like to be in a group setting though and soak up some belief... I think witnessing other's faith tend to help reawaken mine.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I find it strange because I cannot find a church within distance that wants a couple dykes, much less crip dykes and others will not pick up so now, over a year without going to church I am finding my view of God has changed, isn't corporate, or litergical. I am not exactly what she is.

As for "You are looking great" - this has become the number one depressing thing I have said to me along with "How are you today?" over the phone from the parapalygic assoication or the Pain control association. Dunno, why not guess it might be less than peachy?

In unrelated Christiany news, all I can think about for the last few weeks is that even Jesus needed help, needed a caregiver (the guy who carried the cross) in dying. That God incarnate needed a human, needed help while dying. I think that statement is probably enough to get me kicked out of many religions but it is true - if we believe the narrative. I just don't know what it means.

cripchick said...

you're so right about disability activists not being able to talk about a lot of things, like disability-related death of friends, chronic pain, the days where you hate your situation, etc. i think that's the nature of activism because you have to be strong on your points to push what you are fighting for forward. maybe this is where it's important just to have other crip friends, where activism is a part of your life, but where you can connect on so many other levels.