This morning I’m up early as last week’s post, Wade’s Mezuzah, is being published, distributed, and hopefully read by subscribers. Shortly I will begin my weekly promotion of its link on organizational pages on Facebook as well as my own.
But I awoke to the thought of writing this post, and the memories here told brought tears to my eyes as I am reminded again what a wonderful life I have had. I know I will “crash” later, having been up later than usual last night attending a musical outside Atlanta with friends. Wade is out of town for work, so my schedule is mine this morning.
I mentioned the religious artifacts in our home, and I’ve decided to briefly tell the stories of those I mentioned. Their stories are what make them sacramentals, material objects conveying spiritual meaning.
The Latin American altar cloth upon which my laptop rests I purchased when I began leading retreats on Henri Nouwen as a way to deal with my grief at his death. It represents his love and service to Latin America, and its multicolored stripes are reminiscent of the rainbow flag that Henri never got to wave for himself.
The Sacred Heart sacramental was a gift from Ed McGee, who accompanied the worship and directed the Sunday choir during the annual gay and bisexual Christian men’s retreat we led at Kirkridge. With a mischievous wink, he gave it to me because I inquired of him, a Roman Catholic who loved to play for Presbyterian congregations, about the tradition of the Sacred Heart.
Ganesha was sent to me one Christmas by my Mormon nephew, my sister’s second son, knowing my penchant for things religious and my challenge for things computer.
The embracing clay Muslim men in kaftans was brought to me from Egypt by my friend, Bob Lodwick, the U.S. Presbyterian representative to European churches, when he filled in for Ben Weir in the Middle East after Ben was abducted and held captive. Bob also brought me one of the plates inscribed with a verse from the Quran hanging in another room. He provided the Lazarus Project with a supply of St. Lazarus icons from Cyprus to adorn our Lazarus awards. He and Hedy hosted George Lynch and me when we visited the offices of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
The ceramic tile from Israel with Shalom in Hebrew was brought from Jerusalem by Vicki Goldish and Vicki Dakil, a lesbian couple. Vicki-1 (as we sometimes designated them!) was Jewish and Vicki-2 was a Christian of Lebanese descent. They had a tree planted in Israel in tribute to my father when he died. Both succumbed to cancer at early ages.
The Christ Pantocrator was given me by a congregant when I was ordained by MCC in 2005. The origin of the African goddess is a mystery to me. Perhaps that’s as it should be!
The Balinese mask was a gift from my first longtime boyfriend, pseudonymously referred to as “John” in my first book, Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian’s Struggle to Serve the Church. He was my loving “redeemer” after I was dropped as a candidate for ordination by the Presbytery of the Pacific in May of 1978 after the Presbyterian ban on ordination of LGBT people was put in place. We are no longer in touch, but I fondly remember his touch.
The papyrus scene of Pharaoh being judged—his heart weighed on a scale opposite a feather—was something I acquired on a Fordham religious studies tour of the Middle East. Judgment came if his heart weighed heavier than that feather.
The Tree of Life across the room I acquired in Katmandu on another religious studies tour, and it was woven in Cashmere, the disputed territory between Pakistan and India. I used it as a symbolic banner during a Christian season when I served as interim pastor of Christ Covenant MCC in Decatur, Georgia.
Something I didn’t mention last week, but on the opposite wall hangs a water color of the cliffs of Moher in Ireland, painted in retirement by the pastor who became my first Presbyterian mentor and pastor, James King Morse. I hoped for him a long life by telling him I wanted him to preach at my ordination!
I’ve saved for last the other plate I mentioned with a Quran quote—rather, the shallow bowl pictured above—because it entails one of my favorite stories. A transgender Muslim friend from Pakistan translated the phrases on both plates for me once, but the sticky notes with their translations have since fallen off. I acquired it in the Orthodox section of Jerusalem, Mea Shearim, on the religious studies tour of the Middle East.
Our leader was Byron Shafer, who, besides being a professor and one-time head of the religious studies department of Fordham University, served as primary author of the report of the Presbyterian task force on homosexuality, on which I served. He took a few of us on the trip to his favorite tiny shop.
We entered and found nothing on its shelves. The old, wizened proprietor greeted us warmly, inviting us to sit, and offered us tea. He started boiling the water as we chatted about our trip and eventually, after serving us tea, he began pulling items from behind an apron on the lip of a shelf, one by one. This made each artifact seem special, unlike the many shops with shelves crowded with merchandise. I just had to have one, it was so memorable.
So I splurged $40—a lot of money to me then—to purchase a now 160-year-old copper bowl covered in tin from Persia, now Iran, etched with a verse from the Quran, I think meaning, “God is great.”
As I look back, that gentle old man is an image of God, pulling out of his stores one beautiful thing after another, offering it to us to admire and possibly hold on to as we sip tea together, conversing. Einstein once said the reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen all at once.
It’s a wonderful life. God is great!
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