Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding Angels

It has been a momentous few weeks. I've been to the ER with shortness of breath and a tight chest and a PCP telling me I had to ensure that it wasn't a heart attack. (It wasn't.) Yet during the 24 hours there, I met some wonderful women, all who reached out and supported me while I watched my blood pressure shoot up and scared the crap outta me!

Then two weeks later, I hit a patch of ice, went tobogganing in my van with no control over where we went, and with two kids in the car, hit a 20 foot wall in rush hour traffic. For several scary minutes we sat in traffic as we watched other cars hit the same ice and slide towards us. Then, while I yelled for help on 911, a tow truck pulled up behind us, blocking us from what would end up being a 6 car pile up - plus the car who hit the ambulance that came on the scene. Of all the cars there, mine and one other were the only ones without serious injury. That tow truck kept the following car pile-up from plowing into us.

So I am feeling pretty blessed these days, and very aware that angels come in all sizes and packages. Angels include Miss Anita and Miss Laverne, two wonderful ladies in the ER with me - both mothers and grandmothers. We sat in the waiting room for our stress tests (I passsed with flying colors), and we talked of all the children who need us. Miss Anita reared two daughters, both gifted, both successful Black businesswomen today. Her children, like my own, were in music and church choir. Miss Laverne, in addition to her own grandchildren, volunteers at her church's afterschool program, as do I. We only shared part of a scary day together, and like me, both ladies were released to go home. Yet we sat there in the hospital urging one another to take care of ourselves as well as all the children in our lives. I promised to do more yoga; Miss Anita is going to try to give up smoking again (the more you quit, gentle readers, the more you quit); Miss Laverne promises to start doing exercises for her back.

Miss Anita and Miss Laverne are wonderful reminders of what is missing in the church: caretaking for those of us caretakers. I go to church and hear the same sermon about learning to be selfless week after week and year after year. Male ministers still talk about humbling ourselves to God, while making more money than I ever have. Yet in the hospital, angels like Miss Anita and Miss Laverne do the real ministry; they told me repeatedly to take care of myself for my own sake and for my children. They shared a gospel that reminds those of us who humbly serve that we matter, too. When I got the all-clear to go home (with a scrip for antacids), I hugged Miss Laverne and Miss Anita good-bye. They are my angels.

And sometimes, tow trucks are angels. Yes, the tow truck came to give me a tow after the accident, but it showed up before any emergency vehicle. By parking behind me, the subsequent pile-up of cars missed me, and I was the only car at the scene who neither hit anyone nor was hit. After the police cleared us to leave, and the ambulance personnel checked out my children, I hugged the tow truck driver (poor guy!). And I've been reminding everyone that angels can be surprising things - grandmothers, certainly. And tow trucks as well.

I have been brought up to listen to grandmothers; many grandma's out there have added to my life. Finding angel grandmothers in the ER was no surprise, but still a blessing. But for the rest of my life I'm gonna see tow trucks, and remember how they are angels, too.

Who knew? All of creation is holy, and we all can serve. Remember, the next time you see that truck driving down the road.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany: recognizing the holy

Epiphany is my favorite Christian holiday. As I wrote in a short note to one of my best friend's today, it is the day the Magi recognized Jesus as savior, ushering in a new church. Jesus as Christ becomes manifest to the three wise men, traditionally in Western Christianity seen as the awareness of Jesus' birth and life becoming known to the gentile world. These themes of recognition, awareness, and acknowledgment as holy actions have always seemed wondrous to me.

My own recent communion at church, discussed last month and through a wonderful multilayered correspondence, was an epiphany for me. I had not recognized, despite years of strong support, that my church was responding to communion in completely new ways. Taking communion at church for me was a personal step in awareness about the new church that my Christian friends are building at East Liberty Presbyterian. Hey, my church says open communion, and they mean it. Epiphany for me is recognizing the value of being included there. Knowledge, recognition and awareness of this new open church means a furthering of my own spirituality. A personal epiphony!

And epiphony should be that way: an opening of awareness, a sudden recognition of holiness, a new knowledge about the sacred. Epiphany is not exclusive to Christianity, anyone can experience a new meaning of sacred.

Epiphany as a holiday also bridges those lovely Christian/Pagan lines I enjoy so. Twelfth Night in England with wassail and caroling; versions of King's Cake abound across Europe; in Holland doors and windows are thrown open for luck; Italy famously celebrates Befana, named for a magical older woman, who visits all the children with gifts and sweets. Some historians trace the Befana to the Roman Goddess Strenia, Strenae or Strina. (Certainly the early church stridently opposed celebrations of Befana). My kids have grown up with very dear friends who cherish their celebration of Befana, and who themselves love the Pagan/Christian overlap.

And beyond Pagan/Christian and traditional religious meanings, there is the deepest layer of Epiphany: a gift of acknowledgment any one human can give another. Awareness/recognition of the holy in another human being is one of the most profound forms of relating humans have. Parents recognize the holy in their children; friends find what is sacred in each other; lovers find the most profound relationship in awareness of soul and body. In a world of impersonal traffic jams, concrete office blocks and gargantuan stores that is western post-industrial capitalism, Eiphany is a celebration of connection.

Have a holy day, everybody! Go recognize something, find some holy, see another as the savior they are.

P.S. Just read the blog of Joan Norton, who posts about the Three Magi on Epiphany as three Druids. Great read. Check it out: MaryMagdaleneWithin. I rather love the human aspects of Epiphany, that gift we can give one another, but it's totally fun to relate druids and magi.