Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Sacred Feminine Spirit

Last night Ben and I went to the Easter Vigil mass at our church-- a very special service, because Ben was entering the Catholic church. It was beautiful-- albeit long, a fact compounded by the bi-lingual service. But as those of you who are Catholic know, the Easter Vigil is the "mother" of all masses. It has more incense, more chanting, more "pageantry," than any other service of the whole year. It is beautiful, and has often been my favorite service, but also embodies some of the things that turn people away from the Catholic church. Yesterday was no exception, and as I watched five priests process to the altar (a typical mass would have only one, maybe two), I was reminded of the fact that our church has been so dominated by male voices that it's often hard to imagine the Sacred as anything other than one of those white haired men sitting up front.

So I'm sitting in the service, very very pregnant, paying attention and enjoying being at a mass that I can focus at, but also sort of dozing in and out of my "zone," when I notice one of the altar servers up front. Now, this is the first big service that I have been to back at my home diocese since girls were finally allowed to become altar servers a year or two ago (mine was one of the two diocese that resisted the change when I was in highschool). So I'm still pleasantly surprised whenever I see a female altar server. Anyway, this girl was spunky: she was a head shorter than any of the other altar servers, and her long wild black hair was barely contained by the elastic holding it back. She was maybe 9, maybe 10, and didn't look too concerned with any of the formality and pomp and circumstance going on around her. A time or two, she got up and wandered off of the altar, only to come back a few minutes later.

During the Gloria, which is a dramatic point in the service-- the moment that the lights are turned on, and the service transitions from being a one of watchful waiting to one of celebration, this little girl just decided to start clapping. No one else in the whole church was clapping-- actually, most people looked a little groggy after the solemnity of the first part of the service. But this little ten year old girl, on an altar with five stodgy old men and several other older altar servers, decided to clap. She started out just clapping the beat to herself, but quickly started improvising with double claps, or knocking her fists instead of her palms together. Sometimes she would stop, and then start up again. In fact, she seemed totally and completely unaware of the fact that she was even up there, or that there was a full church of eyes upon her. She was just obliviously and joyfully clapping, even though no one else in the church ever really joined in with her. It was amazing, and about halfway through the song, I felt this overwhelming presence of the Sacred Feminine, of Mother God.

The vigil was beautiful and moving, culminating in the baptisms and confirmations, which were a total joy to witness, especially since aside from being able to finally share in Communion with the most beloved person in the world to me, I knew the stories of so many of the people that Ben has come to love who are in the RCIA program. And even now I smile to know that lurking in the corner-- or rather, on the altar-- of this Church that I love so dearly and yet struggle with so vehemently, God was ever so present among us, clapping her beat out freely and carelessly.

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