Thursday, March 6, 2008

Among the Pots and Pans

I dreamt last night that I’m called on to give a sermon—an impromptu, on-the-spot sermon. I’m unprepared. In the dream, it’s not clear to me who is the audience. And why me? I don’t give sermons. All of this is somehow happening in a kitchen, a place in which I always feel at home, the center of the home, a place where I wile away the hours cooking for those I love, while meditating and dreaming without effort.

I decide immediately that the only possible sermon I can give is to repeat what Teresa of Avila once said about her own hours in her Carmel kitchen: El SeƱor anda entre los cucheros, the Lord walks among the pots and pans. I decide that the most honest sermon I can give is to point to Teresa—to tell the audience that I am not prepared to speak at length, that the really effective sermon is the life lived, not the words spoken.

The Lord walks among the pots and pans: Teresa said this to her sisters who imagined that the life of meditation is somehow removed from the everyday reality of the kitchen. Teresa said this to those who imagine that one removes oneself from the mess of everyday life in order to pray. Teresa demonstrated otherwise by remaining in the kitchen to cook for her sisters while they went to chapel to pray. It was reported of Teresa that they sometimes returned from their prayers to find her elevated from the floor in ecstasy, still holding the frying pan high over the stove as she prayed.

I’m no Teresa of Avila. The most elevated I ever get is when I climb my small kitchen stepladder to dust my own pots and pans on racks above the stove.

But like Teresa, I am one more pilgrim on the path, on the journey to make sense of a life in which it is often almost impossible to discern divine presence or even any meaning beyond absurdity. Like Teresa, I have to keep challenging myself to look for faith, hope, and love among the pots and pans of my daily existence—the sometimes dirty, unscrubbed pots, the pans into which burnt bits of food seem forever stuck.

This is a challenge that is especially acute for LGBT believers. It is made acute by the churches themselves. The challenge for LGBT believers is often to see any meaning at all in a life journey constantly interrupted by prejudice, particularly when the church both fosters and defends that prejudice.

For many of us, it’s simply easier to renounce the spiritual quest altogether, at least, to renounce it as a formal quest. The very terms used by churches—spirituality, journey, compassion, faith—become, for many of us, so blackened by the fires of constant rejection, that we rightly choose to turn our backs forever on institutions that preach tolerance while practicing hate. I completely understand the response of the many LGBT believers who turn their backs on churches that cherish the warm-fuzzy self-assurance that they love, tolerate, accept, heal, and affirm when what they practice is anything but love, toleration, acceptance, healing, and affirmation.

It is very difficult for us who are LGBT to maintain even tenuous ties to a church that keeps abusing and expelling us. It is not we who reject the church. It is the church that rejects us. It is the church that devises one stratagem after another to keep us in our place, and when we will not remain there (human beings are so refractory when told to keep to their demeaned places, aren’t they?), simply expels us. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s easier to maintain the fantasy that you really do love the alien you never have to face, than the one right beside you at the communion rail, Sunday after Sunday, raising disquieting questions about your real commitment to love and justice.

We remain on our pilgrim path. We remain on the path, putting one foot after another, because that is all that is given to us—that and the story we have no choice except to tell, no matter how lonely the telling is, no matter how isolated we make ourselves when we tell it, no matter how we open ourselves up to further abuse in the telling of our story. We have to tell that story because it is an assertion of our simple, our bare, humanity against forces that threaten to obliterate that humanity. We have to keep speaking out because that is what human beings do—especially when their humanity is at stake, particularly when the obliterating force is an institution that claims to represent a God who is open heart and open door for all human beings.

We remain on our path among our own little cucheros, trying to find threads of meaning in our interrupted existences. We are on that pilgrim path, regardless of whether the church will acknowledge that we walk along as pilgrims beside the church itself: we do so, we LGBT folk, whether we are churched or unchurched. The Lord who reveals himself among the pots and pans may, in fact, be revealing himself to the pilgrim church in some human existences that the churches regard as too dirty and too marginal—too mundane and too unelevated—to examine carefully.

More’s the pity. The church is the loser when it turns aside from those who might be bearers of divine presence, if only by holding up a mirror to the churches in which they can examine themselves, and decide whether the gospel of love they preach is truly all about love for each and every human being. No church can effectively proclaim God’s welcome while turning away God’s children from its “open” doors . . . . Perhaps the churches today need to stop looking for God in faraway, elevated places, and start looking at the pots and pans in their own kitchens. Who knows what they might find among those unscrubbed and ill-used vessels of everyday life?


Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindsay, first, I want to say I loved your lesson on Teresa of Avila. I am writing a paper about her for my History of Christianity class, and I needed a source for "God is found among the pots and pans" -- which I found on your website. I used the quote to emphasize Teresa's humility.

I am an M.Div student at Unity Institute, a New Thought Christian denomination. Have you ever considered teaching lessons at a Unity or other non-discriminating New Thought church? We would embrace your understanding of Christ Consciousness.

Take care and keep on blogging.

William D. Lindsey said...

Mona, I'm delighted I was able to be of help--and hope you won't mind my using your given name. I'm just plain Bill, if you should post in future.

After posting that quote from Teresa, I asked myself where I had seen or heard it, and remembered that it hangs in the kitchen of a Carmelite monastery where I once made a retreat. I also remember one of the friars there telling me it was a saying from Teresa.

Thanks very much for the encouragement to keep blogging, and also the information about New Thought. I don't know much about this group, but would welcome further information. Good luck, too, with the M.Div. studies!