Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Priest: A Woman

There is a woman at my church who I think is really beautiful. She catches my eye every week and when I see her, there is a sense of warmth that I feel as I rest in her presence. Sometimes at mass she sings or she will read and I delight in those moments. I don’t know this woman personally, but friends have pointed her out to me. One friend said that she is studying to be a priest, which in my church, is not unheard of, but in all of Catholicism, her vocational journey is rarely supported.

I don’t know why I am drawn to this woman but I suspect that I see a part of myself in her…and in really, I revel in that.

Yesterday evening I went to the Good Friday service with friends in my community. I saw this woman in the back of the church. A friend told me her name, mentioned that her ordination was coming up and he went over to shake her hand. There were others going over to shake her hand too. She was wearing simple white vestments, like and alter server would wear and I remember saying to myself, “we must be blessing her tonight.”

I had no idea that a simple ordination blessing (as revolutionary as that is) was not the only thing in store.

As custom in a Good Friday service, everything is stripped down. We are a church of the faithful, a cross and the holy Eucharist. Priests wear simple vestments, alter cloths have been put away and the incense comes out. The reverence about the evening is what I appreciate most and last night was a very powerful moment for me.

The procession began as normal and there….there she was again, at the back of the line, where the celebrant is accustomed to walking. Our parish priest was in front of her and he was carrying the foot of the cross while two other women lifted the sides. I smiled to a friend thinking that this symbolic gesture was really beautiful and in my heart of hearts I would have settled for that, hardly knowing that her presence could be so much more.

They processed to the alter, and this woman….this beautiful, God filled woman stood at the alter and began the service with some opening remarks. I remember melting, looking around in amazement thinking that what I was witnessing couldn’t be true. I wondered if I had missed a memo in the bulletin. And as I looked into the eyes of my friends around me I saw the same gaze of utter joy and amazement. We were witnessing something beyond our expectations…

We began, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

I took a very deep breath and smiled…relishing in the symbolism. And she continued on… and I continued to be completely struck with just how beautiful this moment was going to rest in my heart.

There were other women and men who did the first two readings and the passion of Christ, according to John was read. Three women read the passion, representing each part, and our priest….she represented the voice of Jesus. It was all so very moving…

After the Gospel was the sermon…done by ANOTHER WOMAN who carried herself with poise and dignity. She spoke and we were all glued to the importance of her words. And yet, I wondered if this was it. I wondered if the next piece of the service would also include women. I thought that maybe during the Eucharistic blessing things would change. I thought that a man might take over now….and then he didn’t.

Knowing that the Eucharist was already consecrated the night before, as per tradition in the church, I detected the loophole of the situation and thought of it as irrelevant during that time because the actual reality was right in front of me. And as she held up the small wafer for all of the congregation to see, I breathed deeply again.

I remember the words coming out of my mouth, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the words and I shall be healed.”

I shall be humbled
I shall be stripped of my assumptions
I shall be rid of the box that I sit in
I shall recognize the fear that stops me
I shall realize love in my life
I shall embrace the goodness of transformation
I shall be filled with spirit
I shall BE without counting the cost

I was humbled in so many ways yesterday evening…stripped to reveal pieces of my core and gestures of possibility. Joy might be a good word to explain my state of mind, reverence as I walked up to kiss the cross.

There was a woman who celebrated mass at my parish last night.
A beautiful, God filled woman celebrated mass at my parish last night.
Our priest celebrated mass with us last night and her presence was powerful.

Walking Justice: Good Friday 2010

I began yesterday morning in prayer, reflection and poetry, curled up in my blanket as I sat on the couch of our common room. The poetry of Mary Oliver seemed to comfort me as I began meditating on the day ahead. I even put one of her books in the bathroom as if to say that I needed a little more connection than usual. And so I asked myself, why today?

Today was Good Friday, the day that marks the death of Jesus, nailed to a cross. And like a typical Catholic, I went to a solemn event portraying the stations of the cross. Actually, I was a part of the stations…

I went downtown with my larger community of friends for the event. When we rode the El downtown, I meditated and talked very little. I’ve been sick for the last few days and my energy level has been low but mostly I was intentionally slow about my preparation. Like the Buddhist, I wanted my actions of the day to be fully mindful. I wanted to be reverent for the day that Good Friday is and for the respect that I would be representing with my body. I sat in my seat, breathing, watching the buildings go by, watching my friends have conversations, smiling…I thought about Mani al-Utaybi, the who died on June 10, 2006 while he was being detained in Guantanamo. He, and two other men, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani apparently committed suicide during their time of detention. I’m not sure that this is true, but I do know that their detention in Guantanamo was painful and lacking in justice and so with my body as a symbol, I represented Mani al-Utaybi.

When we arrived to the walk a few of us gathered. I slowly put on the orange jumpsuit, an outfit that characterizes prisoners in places like Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. We took some moments for prayer and then I put the black hood over my head and became the silent symbolic representation of Mani al-Utaybi. There were others standing with me, representing more people who were tortured and died in pain. I became a mindful presence of a man I did not know and yet intimately connected with in his death.

We walked through the streets of Chicago with hundreds of others involved with the stations of the cross. They talked along the way about many things. I did not speak.

I walked and I heard people huff in disgust. I heard the curiosity of others. I heard the reverent understanding of how powerful the representation was. I found myself to have a sense of acceptance for all of this, a realization of the reality and then moving on. I didn’t dwell in any one comment but rather rested in the person that Mani al-Utaybi was.

At the ripe age of 25 years old, Mani al-Utaybi was committed to his faith. He desired to get married, have a family and continue his schooling and religious studies. I find that these are dreams that I too share for my own life. And in 2006, when he died, I remember processing my own hopes and dreams within the context of life. Mani al-Utaybi did not have the opportunity to live.

When we got to each station, each of us dressed in the jumpsuits stood in a straight line. We were still and connected. People looked on. Some took pictures and others simply glanced. Yet it was apparent that our role in this event was different. I was different.

We went through each station, each location was different. Friends were around us in solidarity. I could feel their caring presence. I wondered if Mani al-Utaybi knew that people cared for him. I wondered what he would think of this representation of his body.

And then the 9th station of the cross, the execution….

Kairos Chicago and the Witness Against Torture communities took the responsibility to bring the reality of modern day execution to the forefront of our minds. Using the bodies of those of us in jumpsuits, we reenacted the symbolic death of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Each man died yesterday, rested on the ground with only a sheet for a cover. And I too died…just for a moment with Mani al-Utaybi.

With the death of Mani al-Utaybi and the others I couldn’t help but think of all the other things that died with them.
Their hopes and dreams.
The pieces of them that rest in the hearts of those they love.
The reality of a life not fully lived.
The stark realization of a detention never examined.
The understanding of a story never fully told.
The investigation into the reality of how they left this earth.

As Christians we read the passion of Christ on Good Friday and we wonder if Jesus will remember us when we die. We wonder if Jesus is really like us at all and if he is, how is it that people like Mani al-Utaybi are still being crucified today (literally and figuratively).

Mani al-Utaybi, through the representation of my body, was removed from the circle by six pall-bearers, and the action was done. Shortly after I took off the jumpsuit and became me again. I sat down and looked at all the same people that I had once seen through the black hood. I was grateful to be alive and humbled to be in the heartfelt presence of my brother, Mani al-Utaybi. It took me a while to transition into being me again and yet I never fully left.

Today as I write this, I remember Mani al-Utaybi and all the other in prisons across the world. People who are held in conditions that strip away dignity. People who yearn to be released…people who struggle to find meaning in their existence…people who desperately grasp at each day in order to hold on to what little they have left.

Today, there are men and women being held in prisons who do not belong there. They have not been tried in a court of law. They do not have access to attorneys. And for many of them, their reality rests in a state of torture and impending death.

I cry out for them in prayer and mourning.

Salah Ahmed al-Salami…PRESENTE

Yasser Talal al-Zahrani….PRESENTE

Mani al-Utaybi…..PRESENTE