April 17, 2013

A hero's sleep

Have you ever awoken from a dream and wished in the waking you could stay in that dream? The cobwebs of memory falling away, brushed aside by numb hands, a slow mind, eyes blinking back light, and there whispering to the back of your mind, to your memories a voice that says, no just stay here a while longer, don't wake up.
I'm there now. My mind is slowing waking up, I'm struggling to come back to reality. I don't want to wake, I don't want to get up. There is the comfort of fantasy in dreams that just is so appealing. I feel my pillows of life beneath my head and I just want to lay there. I don't want to face the reality of the life before me.
You see, many years ago I folded up my hero's cape, my power to fly, my super strength, my hero's breathe into a trunk, locked those memories away, and fell asleep. I was like sleeping beauty, or maybe a bit like Odin when he slumbered in his odinsleep. The sweet lulling melodies of a dream world rocked me into slumber, and the mind in all its greatness dozed. And there while dozing, all of who I was passed and I become a sleep walker, almost a zombie. All my super powers were gone, at least those I thought I had. I walked into a dream world where I dozed, snoring softly into life.
I had been a priest. I was a lover of God, passionate, full of faith, inspirational, inspired; proclamation of God's words fell from my lips like the drops of water from a fountain. My eyes believed they could see The Lord - my heart thought it saw angels dancing. I placed my lips on the edge of a silver cup and whispered with the greatest reverence, "This is my blood." I lifted into heaven the unleavened bread, lowered it down to the top of the altar, and bending over it held between my fingers like the most delicate of petals, my priests' robes gently falling about my arms and shoulders like the pall of a funeral coffin, I would whisper, "This is my Body."
I was a good priest, maybe one of the best for a short time. I prayed constantly, daily, hourly. Every time I walked with audible steps on the ground, the sounds of my shoes reminded me of the sounds of Christ's steps as he carried the cross on his shoulder. Seeing a child running to his mother I thought of the Virgin Mary scooping up her Christ Child. When I held the hand of a dying man, his family wailing around me I believed I was like Christ, anointing his head with oil, asking Christ to take the illness of the dying upon himself, to carry the man and his suffering from the bounds of earth so that he might be free to rejoice with God in heaven. I would weep with the family, tears of anguish felt by them pouring from my eyes.
I held the hands of a woman going to hospital the next day asking me to pray for her, to anoint her head with oil. We prayed together, she could not let my hands go. I drew her close to my breast, and held her while she sobbed. I kissed her head and told her that God loved her, that no matter the outcome, she would be free because the Christ had released her from sin in his death. His suffering was her suffering. Her time on this earth was a memory, a shadow and that memory, shadow would pass in the light of the rising sun.
I ran my fingers though the hair of toeheaded children, seeing in their young bright eyes the future of the Church, little bears of God's word and love to the world. I held plump little Mexican babies on the harvested fields in Northern Colorado at migrant camps and believed that each one of them represented the Christ child. I was nervous when their grandmothers would bend and kiss the hem of my pants, but understood too because from the breathe of my lungs, the Words of God would spill out and the plain and ordinary could become divine, the unleavened would rise, the wine would become blood and together we would all live forever.
I believed that while I stood at the altar, with God before me in bread and wine, that I was a time traveler. That while I beheld those mysteries before me resting in silver and gold on the altar, that is bread becoming living flesh and wine becoming living blood, I was standing not only on earth, but one foot was firmly planted in God's holy court. I was a pontiff, a bridge between heaven and earth, and the angels of God walked up and down my shoulders singing holy songs of praise.
I struggled with my own humanity, writing once, "I have failed The Lord and have not answered that honorable and beautiful call to bear witness to The Lord. How easily I fall into sin myself and I look at the armor of my faith and see the tarnish and dents and marks of my own sin upon it and I nearly weep. I should rather to die than to sin, yet even in acknowledging this I still sin. I seek to be a warrior of the Light, but in my sinfulness I plunge the dagger of my own weakness into the very heart of my faith. I should rather die yet I do not."
Yet in struggling in my humanity I was proud, happy to a great priest. I remember the feeling of absolute power knowing that the faithful parishioners clung to my words, sat enraptured of my preaching the Gospels. I sought to anger the faithful, calling them lazy in their love of God so that they would confront me. There in confrontation I would act like their Jesus and flip over their tables of pride in God's house, daring them to fail to see that if they are full of faith they could not but help to abandon all they cling too and fall before God at the altar. I never lost a single argument - but I never made any friends.
I would tell the faithful that their baptisms in water and spirit pulling its wondrous power from the baptism of their Christ made them apostles, great, greater even than those first twelve. I asked a young man once to allow his spiritual power act like a saint, reminding him that his prayer while only a whisper on earth was a shout in God's ear. I begged him to whisper on earth so that God could hear his shouting, pleading to him, please, please dear son, whisper to God for me.
One day I stood at the altar of God, holding in my hands unleavened bread, breathing breathe on wine, and waited to experience a divine mystery. My gold lined robes of priesthood, weighing heavy against my shoulders. The silver cup blinding me in its brilliance. And I waited. I looked out over the rim of my eyeglasses, slipping in sweat on my nose, and spied God's holy people kneeling. Most thumbing through prayer books, some reading parish news bulletins, some asleep, some checking their watches. Then suddenly there were no angels dancing on my shoulders, there was no divine air blowing out of my lips. There was only me. I was coming awake. I placed the stale unleavened bread on its silver paten, hand trembling as I moved the cup of wine, and I knew I had been deceiving myself. There was no God on the altar before me, there was fermented grapes and flour.
That dream was ending, and waking so slowly, seeing the life around me I realized I had been sleep for a very long time, but I didn't want to stop dreaming. I wanted my power, my hero's cape, my power to fly, my super strength, my hero's breathe. That dream I didn't want to end and for a long time I clutched at those dreamy memories, and hoped to stay there, standing at an altar dressed in fine golden treads with old women kissing my hands and feet. But like all sleep that ends, you cannot lay in that bed forever. Sleep eluded me there, and I had to get up.
And so I pulled off, tugging them over my head, the robes of my priesthood, those holy garments setting me apart from the rest of humanity. I packed into my trunk that fine silver cup, my chalice, my vessel of God's blood. I wrapped my white collar representing eternal life in circle of black cloth representing death of sin. I closed the lid of that trunk, and turned back to my bed. I laid upon the soft covers of a life that was easy and dull. There I fell back asleep, and this time my sleep was more dreamless.
You see in my mission, my life as a priest, in my life in God, as a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I had purpose. While that purpose may have been false, not real, at least for me, I was guided. I had a mission, I was going to save the world, or at the very least I believed I could save me. But when looking at the bread and wine, at the faithless faithful, I knew I had been dreaming. But rather than allow myself to wake up, I went back to sleep. For nearly fourteen years I've not thought once of my life as a priest when I kissed the dying, visited the lonely, feed the hungry, clothed the naked, tended the sick, sang with the children, gave to the poor. In fourteen years I've done nothing but lived my life for me. I've given my love to one or two, but as a human on a planet that is broken, dying, lonely, hungry, naked, sick, needing song, is covered with poverty, I've only managed to tend to me. For all my altruistic up-bringing, for all my education, for all my love of service, I have slept for fourteen years caring only for myself.
But I am waking up. I don't want get up just yet, because that dream, that selfish dream of taking care of me is so tempting. That bed is so comfortable, it's too easy to say to myself, just 10 minutes more, please that's all I need. But the last time I woke up, from my dream of Gods and men, I knew I had to.  I knew that my fantasy life as a priest wasn't really rewarding, that I would cause myself to suffer. But rather than fully waking, I rolled over into a new sleep - and it has been almost as unfulfilling as pretending to be god.
In my last 14 years of sleep, I have dreamt of love. I have dreamt of happiness. I have dreamt of knowing peace and joy. I have touched it with my lips on the face of my husband. But those fleeting memories of reality, haven't sustained me. And so I have to ask myself as an atheist, who at one time believed he breathed God's breathe on to bread and wine so as to make it flesh and blood, can I again be inspired to serve? Can I be a great humanist who desires not just to rest in his own bed to dream his sweet dreams but make for this world room for us all to rest and dream? Dare I ask my lovers in life to journey with me into waking, to stumble out of our drowsy sleep and brush the cobwebs of memories away and blink back the sand in our eyes and look at the light of the world dappling our lives around us? I think I can, but I still have to wake up. I have to get past my fourteen years of not being here and rediscover what in that last dream so inspired me to give everything I had away.
My hero's cape, my power to fly, my super strength, my hero's breathe, these things aren't fantasies; my cape is a flag of equality beckoning us to recognize in each other, beckoning me to recognize in each of you, how we under heaven are equal. My power to fly is in the spreading of the words of love and justice with my brothers and sisters. My flight comes in the form of knowledge - that will leap from mind to mind, heart to heart, eye to eye. My super strength is my husband - in my ability to love, his arm to lean on when I am weak, his strength to support me when I am tired. My hero's breath is my power to speak out against injustice. To raise my voice and proclamation freedom for us all, to proclaim that love does not have gender, to proclaim that equality does not have a color or creed.
Be careful now I am waking up. I was great once, if only for a moment. I can be great again, I know it. But first I have to brush the cobwebs away. Wake my numb hands, quicken my mind, look into light, and shout at my own mind, in a voice that just says yes, get up, don't sleep here any longer.
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