In Which We Observe

17 April 2003

The problem is this simple and this complex: Maundy Thursday is a community holiday, and I have no such community here. I'll be borrowing one, up in Pleasant Hill tonight. Timprov and I will drive up and go to my chiropractor's appointment and get dinner and go to St. Mark's. (Mark won't be with me for most of this holiday, as so many people I love won't be with me. It can't be helped. I'm glad there'll be Timprov.) And it'll be good, but...a different kind of good than when Mark and I actually went to that church. It's a visit, not time spent at home. Maybe that's appropriate for our last Maundy Thursday here in the Bay Area. I don't know. A lot of people, of all religious and un-religious affiliations, seem to think that church is so that God doesn't get mad at people for not showing up in the same place every week. No. Not for me. Church is for community.

If you were here with me, I would wash your feet. My hands would be slippery and unpracticed, and the coolness of the water would startle you. I would dry your feet on a rough green towel. I would dry between the toes and smooth lotion over the heels.

It's hard for me to talk about religion -- well, anywhere, really, because I'm a cranky theologian and identify only peripherally with one of the large traditions. ("Does this make it hard with your family?" asked one of my atheist friends, when we were talking about what I believe about God. I laughed. In my family, being a cranky theologian who identifies only peripherally with one of the large traditions is traditional.) But it's hardest out here, where a small but significant fraction will blithely apply the term "deluded morons" to anybody who believes in any god. (Because they, evidently, have no ideas about life that were acquired on anything but a conscious and rational level. Right.) And another significant fraction looks at it all suspiciously, because isn't that what Everybody Believed where they grew up? (Short answer: no. If anybody can point to a town where more than 2% of the population agrees with my ideas about God, I will eat my hat. And it's polar fleece. Ew.) And even those who are respectful and bother to find out what I actually believe, and not what those people over there might believe or what they thought Christians believed, when they were 12 -- most of them are distant from it. They have their own observances of different covenants, this week or every week or no weeks at all. I'm glad they do -- I think a world where everyone behaved the same way and believed the same things would be drab and boring and sad. But it does leave me much lonelier in this.

If you were here, we would read from the Bible. We would find some poems and passages from other books about being a community or a family, and we would read those, too. We could argue about them and what they mean, or we could listen to the words washing over us and just think, and either way, I would be happy.

I think I've said this before here, but it's probably worth saying again: my most common problem in talking to people about religion is that they think I'm being metaphorical when I'm being quite literal. What I believe is: God is Love. No metaphor, just definition. It works in reverse, too: love is God. The act of feeding our family, in the literal or symbolic sense of either "feeding" or "family," is an act of love, God among us. Not the symbol of God, but Godself. It's one of the many acts of love we can share often. It's good that we have so many.

If you were here with me, I would give you bread I made with my own hands, mixed and punched and kneaded. It's crusty, and the loaf is rough and uneven. I would pour wine for you, or juice if you'd rather. We could put lemon curd or peanut butter or homemade strawberry jam on the bread I made, if that's what you wanted. I'm not sure what that would symbolize, but I'm sure we could think of something good.

"Maundy" comes from the same word as "mandate": this is the day that Christians were given the mandate to celebrate communion. What, exactly, that means is something that I think I'll spend the rest of my life figuring out. In 24 years, I've come to some conclusions about what it isn't -- it's not about the ritual, it's not about somebody in a funny dress giving you stuff, it's not about a God who is furious with humanity but won't be if only we follow steps a, b, and c. It's not about excluding those who don't use the same words about love or community or caregiving as I do. It's not about a concept of holiness that's exclusionary or that withdraws from the world.

I know that in some sense, you and the rest of those I love are always with me. I carry your voices and your laughter in my heart. I know that when I eat and drink tonight, you will be eating and drinking, too. And when I love you tonight, you will be loving me, too, from across a few miles of land and water or across continents and even oceans, love or parent or friend, grandparent or cousin or aunt or uncle, mentor or confidante or anyone else I love. Whether I will see you later tonight or not for months. I know this. Sometimes knowing is enough to get me through it. Sometimes just barely.

All of these ideas -- community, love, taking care of others, pondering words -- all of these come up on other days, and they should come up on other days. But I'm a holiday person. When people say of things like Mother's Day, "I appreciate my mom every day, I don't need to have a special day for it," I think, okay, but why not have a special day for it in addition? It's a false dichotomy, between spending one day focusing on something or spending an entire year doing it a little at a time. You can do both. Nobody says you can't. Nothing precludes it. But sometimes I wish I was less of a holiday person, because then days like this that focus on love and community would be easier to just ignore until I felt able to do a better job of it. Then I think that it's a good thing not to wait until I think I have it down perfect, because perfect is not the point.

So. Hi. Hard night and morning for me here. I was talking to Ceej last night and found out that his landline is (or was) down due to a storm, and his e-mail has some problem with it at work. And then in the middle of the conversation, his cell battery ran out, and I was left with no way of contacting him at all. I didn't think about how much I rely on knowing that I can contact the people I love if I really really need to, until all of a sudden, I couldn't get to one of them at all. At all. I didn't like that one bit.

My back has been bothering me pretty badly, so I stayed up late working on the Not The Moose. All right, so using those logical terms is perhaps misleading. I didn't sit here and think, "Hmmm, I am in pain, perhaps less sleep is the answer." But I was just lying in bed hurting and fussing, so I got up again. Worked on the Not The Moose Book and finished reading Anne George's Murder Runs in the Family, which was slight and charming, and I may read more in the series, depending on whether I'm in the mood for slight and charming. And it was regional without being condescending or slapsticky or otherwise unpleasant. I also read Louis Slobodkin's The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree yesterday -- a 1952 children's SF novel. ("Or I should say boys' SF novel," I said at dinner last night, and Timprov joked that it appears girls didn't start reading until the 1970s. In the right/wrong genres, it surely looks like it.) It was a sweet book, though, even more thoroughly of its era than most of the grown-up SF I've read from the early 1950s.

I also hope that kneading orange zest into dough is good for the hands in some regard, because I seem to be doing it once a week lately. I made Mark orange almond biscotti dipped in chocolate. So far all reports of them are good, although I have not had one myself and Timprov would like me not to dip some of them in chocolate next time I make them, so that he can enjoy more than one. Not a problem. I will gladly reserve more chocolate for my own use; I don't have to give it to him.

Oh, hey, my short story "Drops of Yesterday" is up, so go, read, comment, enjoy. The style of the illustration is a bit eccentric, but it looks like the illustrator actually read the story and paid attention to the details of it, so I'm happy with that. This is the one Cal inspired after he read the related short story "The Flask of Today."

So, as I said, Timprov and I will be heading up to Pleasant Hill in the late afternoon today, and I look forward to having a functional back again, and also to church at St. Mark's, and also to the tomato stuff you can put on your bread at the pasta place. In the meantime, there will be work, and chores, and reading of A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. And maybe the eating of a biscotti or a chocolate raspberry stick from Trader Joe's. So. All that and a major religious holiday, too.

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