February 11, 2016
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 incomprehensible words became the expression of my identity, in particular, of my identity as one of a People.
On Easter Vigil of Holy Week 2013, 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.
The entrance to All Saints is at the southwest corner of the building.
November 03, 2015
26 years. 21 moves, 3 continents, 11 schools, 15 churches. I never wanted to move again. But I had to. I'd spent a year volunteering at a ministry in New Hampshire. I planned to move back to Iowa. But doors slammed shut.
Earlier that summer, during a brief vacation, the Lord had called me to be a tree, to be planted. I felt more like a frantic animal, running here and there, trying to survive. I recorded the words as a far off vision.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream." (Jeremiah 17:7)
Now I was being uprooted again. No, not uprooted. Just transferred. I hadn't let roots grow down since I left my home in Eastern Turkey at age 11. Where to move? Throw a dart at a map and move where it lands? I didn't know.
One week before moving day I was offered a place to stay in Wheaton.
My sister's pastor recommended Church of the Resurrection (Rez). I walked the two miles and arrived in the middle of a service at the high school Rez was calling home. I sat in the back row. Minutes later tears streamed down my face. I was home.
Why? I didn't know. The liturgy was new, the people strangers, the size intimidating. But I was home. The next week I was there again, crying in the back row. And the next week. I was truly home.
The first time I met with Val McIntyre, I poured out my story and my desire to be part of the church. I poured out my fear. She talked of a tree, roots all bundled up, moved from place to place to place. "It's okay if you're not ready to let the roots down yet," she said.
In February I was ready. I wanted to join Rez. I filled out the application. And then, fear! If I became a member, would the church use me up and throw me out? Was membership just permission for abuse? I made my way to a prayer minister during Eucharist. He prayed. And then, though he did not know me, he spoke to my heart. "Helen, as a pastor and representative of the Church, I apologize for the ways pastors and churches have hurt you." A dam broke. Grief and anger shook me. I clung to a crucifix. Fear melted.
I submitted my application for membership. I was to become a member at Easter Vigil 2013. A few days before Holy Week, Val asked a strange question: "Where would you say Turkey is in relation to your body? On your right? Above you? Under you?"
"Inside me, of course!" Where else would it be? The only place I had ever been home! The only place I had belonged.
"Would you take a step? Step away from Turkey?" My answer was a fountain of tears. "Take your time. Maybe this will be a Holy Week journey for you. Maybe it is not just one step."
I prayed through the week. The Oath and National Anthem of Turkey rang in my mind. I'd repeated those words every day for years. One line refused to let go of me: "May my very being be surrendered to the existence of the Turks." I renounced The Oath.
On Good Friday I made my way to the cross. As my hands touched the cross, pain welled up. Katherine Ruch laid hands on me and began praying exactly what I needed. Sobs shook me as Jesus took all my pain over having been used and absorbed it in His cross.
I stayed by the cross praying. Then I knew it was time, time to step away from Turkey, to remove Turkey from the core of my identity. I found a prayer minister. I said the words. And I collapsed, empty. Val found me and prayed identity into me. New identity. Church identity. Father Rand gave me a father's blessing. His final words still echo: Removing things that should never have been there, putting in things that were missing from birth, rearranging what is there into its proper order . . .
Saturday night, robed in white, cross resting on my heart, oil on my forehead, I entered Rez with my whole being. I exchanged the lost home I had clung to for the true home of Holy Church. And I was happy.
After becoming a member I joined the Friday Feast pastorate. In pastorate, I began to understand stability. Those 22 moves, combined with switching churches and schools, had left me with no sense of it. Yet I longed for stability.
One morning I woke in a panic that lasted for hours. Around noon I called Val. "You should go to evening prayer," she told me. "It will be calm, quiet, restorative."
I arrived a few minutes early that evening. No one was there. Five thirty came—still no one . I settled into the silence. The door opened. A man entered.
"Are you leading?" he asked me.
"No. Are you?"
"No," he answered. "Do you know how? Will you?"
"I've never led before," I said, "but I think I know how."
When I got home I sat on my back porch and laughed. Okay, God! You have a sense of humor. Really! I didn't feel worthy to lead evening prayer. And you trick me into going on the day I'm least worthy and have me lead. Really! Over the next couple months I led several more times. I still felt unworthy. I kept telling God I wasn't ready, wasn't qualified, wasn't good enough. "Quit putting yourself on probation," He told me. I committed to leading evening prayer once a week.
Months passed. I felt ever safer in Church. My roots were sinking deep and drawing nutrients I desperately needed. I found friends. I trusted Father Stewart. I could listen to God.
Then my past came flooding back. Surrounded by prayer, by friends, by Church, I struggled along. But there was too much. I needed to go away for a time, to process, to heal. When I returned, I was welcomed back. My evening prayer slot was waiting for me. I was still a member of the church. I was loved. I was home.
Summer came. I was asked to be a worship leader for Kindergarten. I said yes, but I was afraid. In the prayer meeting before the ministry year started, I was still crying out to Jesus for strength and courage. That evening the Lord showed me He was in the Sunday school room, waiting for the children. I would not have to carry the children to Jesus. Jesus was there. All I had to do was be present to Jesus and to the children. That I could do. The next week I was ready to greet each child and lead them into worship. For the first time in years, I began consistently speaking and teaching. A part of me was coming alive.
Fruit. It's different from roots. Roots sink down deep. Few realize that roots are growing. No one sees their full extent. But fruit is for others. It is visible. It is there to be picked, to be enjoyed, to nourish. And deep within the fruit there is a precious seed. I was starting to produce fruit.