This week I flew to Victoria, BC, Canada to be a part of a conference called The Resurrect Learning Party, by performing a concert, leading a bit of worship and doing a talk on the Mystical Heart of the Church. I hadn't left my family to do this sort of thing since my first born was 2, and he just turned 5 yesterday! It was good for them, it was good for me and helped me to practice trust.
The conference was held at this very thin time of year, to welcome and acknowledge those who've gone before us and to ask them to pray for us as we innovate and explore ways in which we can set the body free, in our communities, on the land, and through modalities like art and music. It was a group of about 80 people, from various denominations, who came together under the common bond of the Christ Mystery.
I got to meet an incredible liturgical songwriter named Lacey Brown from the Church of the Apostles in Seattle, whose musical act goes by the name of Poor Clare. I got to dialogue with folks who have started "Wild Church" communities (something my husband Ian and I are discussing for our land). I got to see dear friends, like my friend Travis Enright, who gave the whole conference an incredible shake up and paradigm shift, through his presentation on Journeying With Two World Views as a Cree Irish Anglican priest, who is comfortable with not only his indigenous tradition being present in his ministry, but also his Cree culture, which is not based in the "nuclear family" model. We prayed with tears, for the Tree of Life community in Pittsburgh, and we acknowledged all groups under the threat of destructive ideology. We prayed for the way forward with climate change.
There were many beautiful "misfits" with whom I always feel most at home, with incredible hearts and ideas for what church can look like, when it's not about being a cookie cutter colony of people, but much more varied and diverse.
When I spoke about the Mystical Heart of the Church, I wanted to point out a sort of chicken/egg problem we often find ourselves in, when coming up with solutions for inclusivity in the church. And that is, that if our philosophical starting point is separation of matter and spirit, we are scrambling from outside the paradigm of "connected and diverse" to almost enforcing welcome through our own strength and doing. But if the catholicity of the church, or the kind of monasticism that is imperishable, or incarnation is our starting point, as in who we already are, AND what we are traveling toward, it changes the game, because it liberates us from having the control to enforce equality from an idealogical place...
It is the Ground of our Being already. Matter and Spirit are one. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8: 38-39).
Thomas Merton once prayed to God: "Oh how far I have to go to rest in you in whom I've already arrived."
Carrying this reality under my feet, we migrated into a remarkable ritual space where the whole group held an All Souls Mass in the crypt of the Cathedral, downtown Victoria. We chanted the names of Saints, including Oscar Romero... Dorothy Day... Clare of Assisi... Saint Francis... We lit candles for the departed (I lit one especially welcoming Fr Thomas Keating), and when it came time to experience the beauty of an ecumenical eucharist, I whispered the words, "the body of Christ, re-membered". And it was real. It was the starting point (alpha) and the culmination (omega)... that the Ground of our Being is, always has been and ever shall be, God with us. But through the acts of unfathomable love here in the flesh... through bringing this metaphysical realm more deeply into being human and of the earth, healing is possible. Through lives lived, that have assumed the posture that welcomes being overtaken from the inside, by the "spark that belongs entirely to God and is never at our disposal" (Merton) and thus, by that which does not die, we are able to live more fully into exploring the curation of spaces of welcome and innovation.
I love that the "Resurrect Learning Party" held ritual in the crypt, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, who have gone before us, because without those who have gone before us, gathering tends to be empty and suspended, with no history, certainly sordid and complicit, but also beautiful and generative.
Today's song is What We Are, from the Point Vierge (Merton) album. I want to share this especially, because I have been engaged with innovating what the Christian church might look like moving forward. Even as I have done this, another imperative starting point, is to be actively sending my love and my very life to the Tree of Life Synagogue and to all places under threat of religious, racial or sexual oppression. Religion can be one of the most beautiful expressions on the planet, because it intuits that we are animated by a Spirit of Love, or that we are living in a interconnected Mystery, but when religion's starting point is separation, which has traditionally bred triumphalism, and that God will send all others from the "outside", to burn, it can be the most ugly, destructive, ways of being ever to exist on this planet. Christianity is absolutely without any doubt no exception.
In fact it may very well be the rule.
How can we not make the connection that the ideology that believes God will destroy others has something to do with current ideological violence?
Until we are willing to take the log out of our own eye, and make a FIERCE inventory of our tradition, we'd better stop pointing fingers anywhere else... and I mean anywhere else. No more "whataboutisms". Period.
May we live with humility and honesty about our tradition. May we hold it more lightly, even as we deepen into the message of incarnation that is all in all. As Bishop Tutu has rightly said, "God is not a Christian".
What does the church look like with this truth as the starting point?
Lord have mercy on us, for all the times we've stood on the philosophical plank of separation when trying to live out inclusivity. We hand this over and are overcome by what we already are everywhere and always...
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.