Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ordination

Singing "Here I am, Lord"
I wish I could put words to the experience of my ordination, but I cannot do so adequately. I shall work at making an inadequate explanation of all that happened during the week of retreat and ordination, and I hope you will forgive how mundane it may sound. The magic, the raw power, the humility, and the deep sense of abiding service to the Divine was overwhelming and beautiful.

The week started with a long bus ride at an ungodly hour of day (I left my house at 3am!), and which ended in New York City at 9am. It was a beautiful day, I had my suitcase (on rollers), my backpack (with computer and toiletries) and my purse, along with my cane in hand. I walked about 16 blocks to meet with Suren, one of my classmates, at his hotel. We had breakfast, then headed up to meet with another of our classmates, Farida. The three of us shared a hired car up to the retreat center in Stony Point, NY.

Once I got into my room, I put my things away and got settled. We were almost immediately called to start our oral exams, which thankful were largely group oriented. Again, I can't really explain how those exams made me feel. I wasn't nervous, per se, but it was very intense. We did some large group work, then went into smaller groups. We worked hard, and still answered only a handful of questions because of the group dynamics which provided us with a wide variety of responses.

The food was marvelous. The staff was friendly and helpful. The rooms were quiet, clean, and the beds comfortable. The three days I spent there were wonderful, filled with funny stories, moments of great sorrow, and a lot of tears. We culminated in a ritual that provided a true "birthing experience" for each of us. The details, of course, are private, but the results are obvious in each of my fellow students.

My blessing, by Rabbi Roger
When we all reassembled at Riverside Church in Manhattan, we were ready. There was a great flurry of students donning robes and stoles for the first time. My own robe is white, with incredibly beautiful lace at wrists and hem, a priceless gift of love and joy from Pastor Alison, my mentor and friend. The stole is green and blue and teal, looking a lot like a stained window, with three intertwined rings at the bottom. Putting the whole ensemble on was energizing. I didn't notice the heat, the noise, or the flurries of activity going on around me. I entered my own little sacred space, and it was wonderful.

The service was incredible, as always. Walking down that long, marble aisle was a bit nerve wracking, I admit. I was worried about my ankle, worried I'd drip wax on my new robe, worried I'd trip or sneeze, or do something else that was a faux pas. Luckily nothing horrible happened, and I made it to my seat with no drama whatsoever. Our class looked marvelous!

We opened the service with an interfaith rendition of "Here I am, Lord" which rocked the house. I was lucky enough to be out front, as we had two small groups doing two of the verses. I was also standing next to my friend Sarah, who belted out her solo to fill the entire cathedral with angelic song. Even thinking about it makes my arms get goosebumps! And then, the moment of ordination arrived, and we all stood up there at the front, facing our friends and family, cameras, and our Deans and instructors.

Laying on of hands by Father Giles
First, Rev. Festa anointed each of us with oil. Then Rabbi Roger came and took our hands, blessed us, and spoke out our name loudly, so all could hear. "I present to you Reverend Michelle Allyson Szabo!" I was fighting back the tears. Dean Deb added her blessings and those of the Mother Goddess to Rabbi Roger's. Father Giles was next and laid on hands in a moment of streaming, palpable power. I was left shaking. I know someone else came after that but I cannot remember for the life of me. I'm sure when I see the video it will help. For our class of 35, the whole process took about a half hour, I think, although I had no way of measuring the time. I clung to my staff during the entire procedure and just let the entire experience flow over me, sweeping me into my new state as minister.

Rev. Annie and me
After it was all over and we were down in the Undercroft eating sandwiches, there was controlled chaos. There were photographs, hugs and flowers, children clamoring for blessings and attention, food and drink, and noise! Rev. Annie, who was not my dean the first year but who has become a friend and confidante over my two years of seminary, posed for a photo with me. I was beaming like a crazy woman through the entire ordination. I don't think I stopped until I was in the car on the way home, and even then it was only brief pauses in the smiles.

Our life isn't perfect. We're still looking for a house, trying to get enough money in the bank to support everything, and trying to keep the five of us together in happiness as much as possible. Perfection is never attainable, though. We're good enough, and getting better. Isn't that what counts?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Confirmation


On Sunday morning, I will be Confirmed into the Christian Church, and specifically into The United Church of Winchester. The term "confirmed" has several connotations, but really has only one meaning: to be verified, or substantiated. But what does that mean?

I suppose it depends on how you want to look at the term. From a pagan perspective, every ritual I have done to dedicate myself to my gods is a ritual of confirmation. I am confirming that I am, indeed, going to be their servant. I am confirming my dedication to certain things, be that leaving food at a crossroads at midnight on the dark of the moon, or slopping beans into plates at the church once a month.

From a Christian perspective, it has some similar meanings, but the feel of it is quite different. I think because Christians have so few initiatory rituals, this one means so very much to them. To us, I suppose I should say after Sunday, although it might take me a while to reach the point where that statement comes easily to my lips.

The Christian idea of confirmation stems from the Book of Acts in the New Testament. There are many people who are baptized by John the Baptist and later by Jesus. The followers of both men also baptized others. But as both commented, they were baptizing "only with water." There's the story in Acts where Jesus has died and they all go to be together a few days after his disappearance from the tomb. He comes to them, presumably in spirit form but with a physical reality to him as he can touch things. He tells them he will be with them for a few days and that when he leaves they will be baptized with the spirit. At the time, of course, they had no idea what that meant.

To those early followers, it was just more confusing words from the man they held in such high esteem. When it happened, and the entity the know of as the Holy Spirit descended upon them en masse, they were said to "speak with tongues of fire." Each person spoke in their own language, but everyone in the crowd understood everyone else even though they didn't know those other languages. It was a day of revelations for many of them.

Later on, it becomes clear that the apostles see a difference between a baptized person (anyone could be baptized, after all) and someone who had "received the Spirit." That reception of Something Wonderful And Strange is what has come down to us as Confirmation within the Christian churches.

You might ask, why is a Hellenic pagan being Confirmed in a Christian church? That's a bit of a story in itself. Two years ago during my studies at seminary, I had a bit of a run-in with Jesus. I know that sounds rather odd, but I suppose it's not really anymore odd than the fact that I talk regularly with Dionysos and Hecate... why would it suddenly be so different when it's Jesus? In any case, I had gone up for some peace and quiet in the sanctuary of the church (we were having a Christmas party, I think, and my soul was heavy at the time). While I was there, I looked up at the cross hanging there, and sort of called out, "Why me???" I wasn't expecting an answer. After all, Jesus isn't like Dionysos and Hecate, right?

Wrong.

I got my answer: "Because YOU can." It was enough. I don't feel it's my place to get into the details of it all, but the general feeling I had was that I should treat him just like I treat my other gods, with the appropriate worship and sacrifice at the right times. I finally came around to the idea that, really, Jesus is just another Mediterranean god... not so different from the multitudes of others. I do my best to worship him in both a current cultural norm (ie going to church on most Sundays and being active both spiritually and emotionally there) and in an historical way (through offerings of grain and wine, as I would for other gods from that area of the world). Strangely, the relationship works. It feels right.

I was struggling along with this burgeoning relationship, not at all comfortable with it, when one of my deans asked me what was up. I explained that I wanted to participate fully at church (for many reasons, not the least of which is our involvement with marriage equality and their acceptance of my family) but that there were certain things I didn't feel I could do because I had never been Confirmed. She asked why I shouldn't do that now... and I found myself sputtering and making excuses, then finally tapering off and promising to think on it.

A year later, our new pastor started up a multi generational Confirmation class, and I joined in. I have learned a lot, and enjoyed "getting my religious/historical geek on" with the pastor. How fun to talk about the historical accuracy of certain things in the New Testament! How exciting to get into the depth of why certain parables would have made sense to the people of that time! How freeing to discuss the possibility of the Bible being myth in the same way that my beloved Greek myths are myths.

On Sunday morning, I will be Confirmed into my church. I'm rather proud of this. I feel it's a full embracing of the interfaith principles that I am attempting to follow. It feels right, as if I have taken another step on a path that I am meant to follow. Best of all, I do not feel compromised in making my oaths. Having gone over them, there is nothing I cannot (and could not have, prior to the classes) say yes to with complete sincerity and deep feeling.

In a way, I feel I have come full circle. My relationships with Hecate, with Dionysos, Asclepius, Persephone, Haides, and others, have all deepened over my time in seminary. Adding Jesus to the mix has certainly changed a few things here and there (one can hardly, in a true Hellenic sense, worship Easter and then go home and make offerings to Olympians... miasma!). These changes feel very natural, though, and have actually made my devotions feel much deeper, much more complete. I went through a period prior to that Christmas, where I felt like I was drifting. I was following my path, but it was very much by rote. Now, I feel alive, vibrant, happy... This is where I am supposed to be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Counting the Omer - Week Seven, Malkuth

Malkuth is one of the sephirot that I am more familiar with from my Wiccan studies. In Jewish studies it refers to the kingdom, or as Rabbi Rachel says, "genderless sovereignty." From an occult point of view, the idea of malkuth as "the kingdom" is used more as the idea of being the Earth itself, or the grounding, the bringing of energy into physical manifestation. This isn't so far off from the basic idea presented over on The Velveteen Rabbi's blog.

I see malkuth as being the sephirot of manifestation, yes. It is the place where my prayers, visualizations, dreams, and hopes become real. Remember that saying, "be careful what you wish for; you may get it"? That's a part of malkuth, too. This is the place where Spirit (by whatever name you call the god or portion of god who touches you in the real world) makes dreams real. I have to be careful what I think of, what I wish for, because Spirit may choose to manifest them for me.

This, to me, applies in so many ways. In going through the crumbling of my current relationship, I have found myself thinking several uncharitable thoughts about the people who went from "family" to "barely tolerated housemates." Sometimes, I give in to those thoughts, noticing them and revelling in them for a short while. Other times, I am a better person, taking a step back and asking how I would feel if others thought of ME that way.

My very thoughts, the words I speak, are all things of power. If I don't want to manifest negative things in my life, I have to be watchful that I don't invoke those negative things in my words, actions, or even thoughts. This isn't to say I have to be perfect - everyone breaks down sometimes and things, "Gee, what an ass!" The point is to catch yourself and stop the thought. "Not an ass. Just unpleasant to me. I can walk away from this; it is not my problem."

So much anger and frustration could be dissipated easily, if we could just take that step back.