What a Privilege

In August Jean Rorher, a friend at St. Saviour’s Parish, Bar Harbor, emailed me a flier from “Troops Out Now.” It is at

http://troopsoutnow.org/S29now.pdf

After some phone and email conversations with the folks at Troops Out Now, I decided to go to the September 22-28 Encampment by the Capitol and the September 29 March to end the war. I cannot believe that one day longer in Iraq will do any good.

Years ago, Katrina and I lay down on the sidewalk in front of the South African Embassy in New York City with twenty or thirty other protesters. Mandela was still on Robin Island and apartheid was in full swing. We were arrested, loaded into paddy wagons, and sang “God Bless Africa” as we bounced along. We were held at the station for a few hours after we were booked. It seemed a long time. We were finally released. The arrests were a daily event for a few years, as I remember. At our trial the judge asked, “Was there any violence that day?” One of our attorneys answered, “Not here in New York, Your Honor.” “Case dismissed,” said the judge.

Getting ready to drive to Washington I felt a desire to pray with other protesters by the Capitol. I wanted to listen to their ideas, their God given ideas about peace and war. That was the holy writ I wanted to understand. I wanted to listen to their prayer, the people and places that they would ask God to touch. I wanted to receive Jesus’ bread and wine with them — Bread and Wine of a political and religious prisoner who was brutalized by the occupying soldiers and tortured to death. That Friday was just one more bloody day in the Middle East. I wanted to give and receive strong abrazos/hugs of peace: Of your peace, Jesus, of your peace.

So I wondered, “Should I attempt to say a Mass for Peace outside the Capitol every day?” But hey, who do I think I am, Daniel Berrigan?

I emailed the Bishop of Washington and asked how I should ask his permission to say the Eucharist every day at the anti war protest by the Capitol. I wasn’t sure if I would obey an order not to say mass there. So I thought I wouldn’t ask permission. His assistant emailed me back conveying the bishop’s full approval. I took his approval and the assistance of two parishes near the Capitol as encouragement enough to go ahead.

I began to ask people to pray that this might serve God’s purposes rather than my desire for publicity. The Sunday before I drove south, people at the 7:30 a.m. Eucharist joined our rector in Bar Harbor, Jonathan Appleyard, in laying their hands on me and praying for me. I received a blessing I really needed.

In Boston en route I visited one of the groups that was sponsoring the encampment and the march. I met Gerry and other dedicated activists. They were involved in a handful of justice actions including the Jena Six. At the end of the meeting I asked their advice about my attempting to say a Peace Mass each day. They were frank and encouraging. Clerical hierarchy stuff was not wanted. Prayer was welcome.

I arrived in DC on Thursday, September 20th and checked out the site. On Friday and Saturday people started coming. We unloaded scaffolding and lumber to raise large banners and the stage. I met with various leaders asking what time a Peace Mass might work in their schedule. Everyone said, “Check with Imani.” Imani is a New Yorker, probably under 30, energetic, easy to talk to, an energetic leader of the daily camp meetings. He thought 10 am was OK.

Poster announced the mass around the encampment. Bill MacKaye (my host in DC) gave me the phrase, “Wherever you are on your spiritual journey you are welcome at this table.” He said it came from All Saints’ Church in Pasadena.

Ted Fletcher (in Southwest Harbor) and Bill MacKaye strongly advised me to do things “decently and in order.” That is, in a priest’s vestments and at a proper altar. “Be an Anglican.” I located a table/altar and a dark blue sheet to cover it. Also a glass goblet and a wooden bread dish. Green signs on four sides read, “Dona nobis pacem.” The altar was there 24 hours a day throughout the encampment.

On Monday, September 24th, five of us began the daily Mass for Peace. We woul sing something like “Paz, queremos Paz” after someone’s comment about peace during the first part of the Mass. Each person spoke one or more times about peace and war. There was often silence between people’s comments. The ideas that I heard were beautiful, reasonable, self effacing, gentle, calm, healing. We sang songs like “Ubi caritas” from Taize and “This Little Light of Mine.”

I treasure the memories of what different people said about peace and war. Beautiful hearts and ideas: Original, yet echoing Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Dalia Lama and others. Words were spoken slowly, uncertainly, and with intensity – attempting to express their own personal understanding of the evil that often begins within ourselves. I heard no self righteousness.

The woman in fatigues is holding a white pole. She was among the twenty or so Code Pink ladies at the demonstration. At the top of the pole was a large American flag upside down. (“The flag should never be displayed with the union down save as a signal of dire distress.” — Public Law 829) Dire distress? Yes! Bodies are being torn up every day.

After sharing ideas and songs people prayed for various things: For a sick or dying friend; Sometimes for the Representatives and Senators. One could feel their presence, their busyness, their confusion — in the white domed ant hill that loomed above us up the hill. I suppose they realize that their silence kills and wounds more people every day.

After the prayer we stood at the altar. I wore a hooded alb, sort of a monk’s outfit, as the mass began. Going to the altar I put on a white chasuble with red orphreys. A chasuble is a first century poncho. Orphreys are the stripes front and back. Katrina’s father had worn this chasuble when he ordained her in 1974. The people are facing me on the other side of the altar just out of the picture.

Everyone was invited to receive the bread and wine. During the week one person decided not to receive. The last person would give me the bread and wine. We had five to ten people each day — People of all ages including teenagers. Two Anglicans from England joined us. One regular was a former Roman Catholic who had tried and left the Mormon Church. One was a leader of the Green Party in DC. Three were Code Pink Ladies who wanted to give Bush and Cheney a pink slip. One brought a guitar and another an ancient Swedish precursor of the violin. I loved making music with them.

I miss the people. It was a privilege to be with them.

When I got home I received the following email from the Code Pink Lady who was holding the upside down American flag during one of the masses.

George,

It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with you. I was quite fond of the encampment and the peace mass was my absolute favorite part of it, even edging out the best nights of rocking the rulers. [“Rocking the Rulers” was music and speeches every night on the stage.]

It is strange to be home. Good, but strange. A more altruistic communal lifestyle seems better to me, and I have been imagining a place where devotees of all the world’s religions live together and pray each others prayers and rituals and invent rituals in common. I’m told that the rabbi here was once a Mormon. I’d dearly love to meet her.

Peace and Joy!

Indeed, Peace and Joy for sure.

Recently Jonathan Appleyard gave me a quote from Debbie Little Wyman on worship outside verses worship inside.

“When I am inside, I’m not sure that we are/can be the church.”

Debbie ought to know. She got the outside worship started on the Boston Common every Sunday. My feet still hurt from a bitter cold Sunday last December when I worshiped there. Check out:

http://www.ecclesia-ministries.org/common_cathedral.html

My experience of worshiping outside with five or ten people below the capitol are so much more memorable than dozens/hundreds of “inside” services I have attended or led. And I remember saying mass in the chief’s kghotla — a semi-circle stockade of logs where trials and meetings take place under the African sun. This was in Maun, Botswana, between the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Swamp. I did that to escape the white hotel, Riley’s Bar, where I also said mass in the “salon” — mostly for whites and English speaking locals.

Phineas Gitta reminded me of the time Katrina said mass for at the Kansas City Airport for Phinease and his family and friends as he was about to fly to Uganda. It was also a holy moment in time. Outside. We spoke directly into the ear of God.

Outside is different from inside. Inside we have the constraints of walls, doors, floors, ceilings, heat or cooling, furniture, and the financial cost of all those THINGS. These “things” constrain our speaking to God who is no thing. Someone owns these things and may control us in their space. I would add the constraints of salaries, benefits, housing, etc for those who imagine they are the hierarchy. Inside it is religion. Ligaments. Re-ligaments. All bound up. Needs Exlax.

Indeed, When I am inside, I’m not sure we are/can be the church. Jesus, help us.

I’m happy that I led the peace masses. However I am not sure I would do it again. It WAS good. Totally. Yet . . . . The white building on the hill did not fall down.

The good was the doing of it. What it achieved in the universe of suffering was minuscule, I think. Is that heresy? Or the desire to control? I don’t know. I did meet and pray with some beautiful people. We touched each other. Perhaps that is the purpose of life.

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