I Am Episcopalian: It Is My Choice

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  For those of us who practice catholic traditions, this is the season when we “Give it up for Lent.”  I was going to give up chocolate but I decided that was too harsh.  Instead, I am giving up beer and beef.

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I was still deciding what to give up.  Having made that decision fairly quickly, my thoughts turned to the real reason for Lent and my part in it.

I remembered my blog – this one – the one that’s been sitting here for two years with only a blank page and pretty picture.  The wheels started to turn, my reasons for “doing Lent” became words, and presto!  My first blog article.

It had to have been a miracle.  It’s not easy giving up procrastination.

This leads back to the title of this article:  “I Am Episcopalian:  It Is My Choice”.  A bit of backstory – for decades, my “religion” of choice was New Age (in some circles it’s New Thought) and I still resonate with New Age philosophy and practice. Practice?

New Age has had some bad press.  Observers perceive New Age as flakey, cafeteria-style religion.  We study all the great religions and take the best from each tradition.  Working with spiritual teachers and leaders, we develop our own spiritual practices that provide us with tools to successfully navigate this world and connect with God.  As we change, so do our personal theologies and practices.  No matter how long or short the journey, God is with us in every space, place, and time.  S/He never changes, but still enjoys the changes in scenery with us.

I choose what works best for me.  I choose.  There came a time in my life when I wanted to go back to church.  When push came to shove, I chose The Episcopal Church.  (Technically, I’m certain it chose me – but I will thank God for letting me live out the illusion of free will.)

All I wanted to do was celebrate and say “Thank You, God!”  In 2011, I was starting to rebound from one of the most difficult periods of my life.  It started in 2008 with a heart-breaking job loss during the worst economy in my lifetime.  Yes, I loved my job.  A year of unemployment, relocation, financial wipe-out, and finally – a new job, but with a brutal pay cut.

I knew God was with me all the time.  All my life, I’ve had this deep, gut-level absolute knowingness that “I will be taken care of.”  And I have.  Throughout all the drama and trauma, tiny, unexplainable, surprise coincidences happened just in the nick of time to keep me moving one step forward.  Serendipity, if you will.  The Universe at work in my life.

Oddly enough, I didn’t feel any desire to go to church and kneel and pray and, well…. basically just feel sorry for myself and ask God to help me.  She already did.  I had the uncontrollable desire, addiction-withdrawal-compulsion, to get my arse back in church to give thanks, celebrate the existence of our Creator, and sing it out.

But why the jump from New Age to a mainline Christian church?  Why The Episcopal Church? From “spiritual” to “religious”?

I appreciate and understand the psychological and spiritual importance of tradition, ritual, and symbols.  God doesn’t care about them.  It is I who care.  They were created by humankind over the millennia for me.  Me, to use as reminders; pointers, anchors – maybe even distractions from the outer world to keep me focused on the inner realm of God.  My experience and perception of God has changed over the decades.  My connection with God has not, and neither have those symbols.

The Episcopal Church, like all catholic churches, practices a liturgical form of worship.  Week after week, century after century, people pray the same prayers, sing the same hymns, recite the same psalms.  Contrary to popular belief, we even read the Bible!  Both Testaments, Old and New.

I believe that in God (or the Universe, Cosmos, Ether, Collective Consciousness) there is no past, present, or future.  We are all one. When the congregation sings and prays and chants, our energies are combined with millions and millions of other souls who sing and pray and chant those same words throughout all time.

There is power there.

Of course, that is New Age thinking.  Metaphysical, they call it.  Episcopal theology calls it The Body of Christ.

There is no difference.

Unlike some Christian denominations (or even particular sects of other faiths), The Episcopal Church is not heavy on dogma or doctrine.  We are taught that the Word of God is to love our neighbors, respect the dignity of all humankind, take care of our Mother Earth, and love our God. To seek peace and understanding; accept others as they are. To care for those in need. These are the basic spiritual truths that lie at the core of every great religion.

After that – I am expected – no, I am required, to think for myself.  To pray and listen for the still small voice of God and follow His guidance.  Use my God-given intelligence, follow my conscience, and seek support from my church community, family, and friends.  Develop my unique talents and gifts to be the best individual I can be for the service of all.

That’s all it takes to be an Episcopalian.

This passage pretty much sums it up for me:

Queen Elizabeth I once said, “I will not make windows into men’s souls.”  Her concern was that the nation be united in worship but that no questions be asked as to why exactly people were there or what precisely they believed.  If they were in the same building, using the same prayer book, that would provide a solid foundation on which Christians could build a mature faith.

“Welcome To The Episcopal Church:  An Introduction To Its Faith, History, and Worship”, by Christopher L. Webber

[You might recall from British history that Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Pope and declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church (or something to that effect).  His son, King Edward VI, read and approved the first Book of Common Prayer, written by Thomas Cranmer who would become Archbishop of Canterbury.  Queen Elizabeth set the stage by making official The Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer.  About 200 years later when the Revolutionary War ended, the Church of England in America was no more, and The Episcopal Church was born.]

In this Lenten season 2015, beyond the absence of beef and beer, I will be thinking about how I can act out my beliefs in the world.  It’s great to think lofty thoughts.  A nice distraction from the world.  But I live in the world, and so did Jesus Christ for a time.  Lent is my time to find a way to demonstrate my beliefs.  For those of you who know me, or if you ever meet me, will you be able to tell what I believe without having to ask?

I welcome your feedback.

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