Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012.05.30 Necessary Drunkenness?

One of the scornful accusations leveled at the people in the pentecostal parable in the New Testament, in which hundreds went ecstatic and spoke and understood in many languages, was that these religious nuts were drunk! 

Excuses were quickly made by Peter: “No, no they can’t be drunk. It’s only 9 a.m.!”  When that story is read in church everyone usually laughs— out loud.

I’ve often made excuses about my spiritual experience, even though I’m not the ecstasy type. Anglo/WASP/New England, you know.

Not long ago we went to New York's Museum of Modern Art to see a special exhibit  featuring Willem deKooning’s  paintings of Woman and a major work, Excavation, his largest painting up to 1950. 

We liked Excavation but found it somewhat colorless, drab, and overly gray.  I felt guilty. This man was acclaimed. I remembered liking his work somewhere in my own ancient history, like college. Maybe it was because we were getting old and graying ourselves.

As we moved through the exhibit the paintings took on more color, flamboyance. And more abstraction. Nary a nose or a big eye to let you know there was supposed to be a person—and no outsized nippled breasts either! 

And we loved it!

Later I told an artist friend we’d been a bit disappointed by the work that had been touted as his best. She gave a wry snort and said something like “Well, the colorful stuff was painted when he was drinking more and more.” We laughed.

“Hey,” I told Dick. “The de Kooning stuff we liked the best was his alkie stuff!” 

Of course I know sobriety is a better bet, but there’s a reason why the Bible remembers the grandiose biblical story of collective spiritual ecstasy at Pentecost.  It wasn’t the first appearance of Spirit but this one was a big splash—rushing winds, tongues of fire.  They were speaking about God and God’s mighty deeds so I suppose anything could happen—and it did.

Peter’s attempt to explain it away, but certainly not as morning-after “drunkenness,” was funny.  

 About as funny as our preferring the alcohol-inspired work of a great artist.

I think everyone is an alcoholic at some level and some time, or at least we all go through necessary drunkenness to break into the divine outer, even for just a day or a minute or for the sake of a couple of blow-out paintings.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

2012.05.27 Darling, It's Pentecost!

My parents used to call each other “darling” all the time. I suppose each generation has its own terms of endearment.  Ours tends towards “Hon,”  or others too fierce to mention :)  One of my sons slipped and called me “Babe” once—what he calls his wife, and she him.  “Sweets” is another favorite. And I also like “Sweetie darling.” I picked that one up on the media.

My former French Jesuit spiritual director used to suggest that we use terms of intimacy for Godde.  I chose Beloved.  But I think Darling would work for the Holy Spirit, that expression of divine affection who is mobile, planting seeds of love, healing,  and connecting all hearts for goodness’ sake.

That's what Pentecost celebrates, the intimate affectionate travelocity of Godde. (I mean what good is a deity who doesn't get around?) The season of the Spirit is the longest one of the Christian church year.  

I wrote a book about this Spirit called The God Between Us. But I think another good title would be, “Here I Am, Darling.” 

A propos of darling, I read this story in the British actor Judi Dench's memoir "and furthermore."  She writes of a time when she, as a very young (early 20s) Shakespearean actor, was given the part of Juliet in R & J.  They played it at the Old Vic in London and her parents came to every performance, in fact came to all of her performances.  Judi as Juliet had a very poignant line in the context of feeling quite young and quite lost. She turned to her nurse and said, with great pathos, "Where are my parents, Nurse?"  And her own father overcome by it all called out loudly,  "Here we are, darling, in row H."

Good acting. Good dad. Good humor.  Good Spirit.

Dench adds that people don't believe her when she tells this story and writes:  "But I assure you it is quite true." Who could doubt?

Dontcha  just love the Spirit!! What a darling Great Connector.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012.05.23 How Should Things Be? A God's Eye View.

How ya gonna live your dash? These words startled Fred Allen out of a breakdown and into a breakthrough.  The dash is what falls between a birth date and a death date on one’s tombstone.  The question has a flavor of the eternal in it.

Allen had been working as a member of a tie-down team in the death house of a Texas prison. His job was to make sure an inmate was securely strapped onto the gurney before a lethal injection was administered. The tie-down job could be compared with the ancient work of nailing down (securing) criminals to crucifixion crosses in ancient times. No one should  have to such a thing.

Fred Allen had officiated at 125 executions until one day he strapped down a woman, the first to be thus executed, and something happened.

I heard Allen’s story in Werner Herzog’s documentary film, “Into the Abyss. A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life,” a film that chills and warms simultaneously a story fraught with contradictions.

Herzog, with skill and compassion, interviewed everyone affected by a violent crime in which three people were murdered. The crime had no defensible motive (stealing a car); it was perpetrated by young and undeveloped brains out of control; two 18 year old young men were found guilty; and it happened in a “gated” community. 

I heard the voices of the murderers and their families, families of the victims, the prison chaplain, and law enforcement officials.  Some years had passed but they spoke as if it were fresh though not emotionally immediate.  Capital punishment is legal in Texas, but no state can afford to wear the self-righteous badge on this issue.

Herzog’s documentary, however,  was not polemical. Rather it sought to unveil the inner story from the perspective of ALL the participants. It was like a play, each interview a scene, the script coming from the hearts of all of the principals who together made a whole story, a parable that challenges but does not tell you how to think or what exactly to do—like most biblical parables.

This drama of the human soul—territory of the unexpected—unfolded in uncanny and utterly unpredictable ways. Listening, I could almost get a God’s eye view into the spiritual innocence of the bared soul.  I wondered if I could know God through what should happen or through what shouldn’t happen—or both?

Michael Perry, 28, was executed on July 1, 2010 for the murders.  Perry’s co-defendant, Jason Burkett, in a separate trial, received a life sentence. 

Was it a fluke or an injustice that Burkett got a lesser sentence than Perry? Shouldn’t he too have been executed?  Perhaps, but his life was spared because of the not too late confessional testimony of his father. With  uncharacteristic humility, Des Burkett, a hardened criminal softened. From prison he spoke of his own criminality and lifelong drug addiction. His son never had a chance at a life, he said, because he never had a father. Two women jurors wept.

What if we could interview all the players in Jesus’ execution trials:Pilate, Pilate’s wife, Herod, Peter, Mary, Barabbas, crowds? What if we could get the inside story?  We try feebly but we really can’t explain it forensically. But Jesus had a father, too, a spiritual one by whom he felt abandoned and to whom he cried out. Like Burkett’s earthly father, Jesus’ Heavenly Father intervened to make sure His son didn’t die forever —as intended. Should he never have died, or should he never have been raised?  Mary Magdalene wept.

Its easy to say I’m against capital punishment. It’s not easy to see the issue made flesh. I couldn’t play either/or. Morality went out the window.  I had to participate in a God’s eye view‚ even though I should have felt disgust, shouldn’t have felt empathy with “bad guys” when my heart had melted listening to the grief of the woman who had lost her mother and her brother, “my whole family in one fell swoop.”

At one point Herzog, joshed with Perry about fate and faith, allowing as how the Old Testament would have been in favor of capital punishment, but Jesus probably wouldn’t have favored it, right?  He fed Perry his line and split divinity in half—a serious theological error that should have been cut.  Still, it was endearing. The interview must have been difficult for Herzog, too.

Michael Perry, dark-haired, young, handsome, leaned into his words. He was mere days away from death yet he spoke with hope. “Ya never know,” he said with a shrug and a smile. He wasn’t a monster, simply a child. I’d never been able to separate the sinner from the sin, more than in my head, until seeing this film.

At the end Perry said his last words: "I want to let everyone here who is involved in this atrocity know they're forgiven by me.” Was he trying to emulate Jesus? Who should be forgiving and who forgiven?  He sobbed briefly, mouthed "I love you" to his mother, and twice whispered, "I'm coming home, Dad." I don’t know if he meant God or his absent father.

The lethal injection took nine minutes. 

Fred Allen strapped and watched. He had spent time with the death row inmates, most of them men. He had provided amenities, like a solicitous mother.  He took orders, served a last meal, maybe chatted. He made sure they were clean and dressed in their own clothes, no prison garb. Then he escorted them to their death. It was his job; it provided a fine pension. He should  do his civic duty.

Nevertheless, when Allen had to strap a woman he soon broke down.  The woman had been calm, accepting. Allen shook and sobbed convulsively. This shouldn’t happen to a woman.

“I just couldn’t control myself at all,” he said. “This thought came to me, how ya gonna live your dash? I’m gonna stand still and watch the birds. How come there are so many humming birds? Ever notice?”

Fred Allen retired early—and forfeited his entire pension.

Jason Burkett is serving his second 30 year sentence. He married in prison and his wife is now pregnant even though they were never allowed to touch each other. Parthenogenesis or sperm as contraband? Burkett will soon be a father.

How ya gonna live your dash?  How should ya?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012.05.20 To Outline Or Not To Outline?

I read a blog recently by Susan Oleksiew, a writer of good mystery books, who wrote that she’d rather have a root canal than make an outline for her writing. Yes!

Most writers and teachers of writing suggest outlining one’s work as a guide. It’s a good idea—and sane.  And it drives me crazy.

But I can NOT outline to save my soul and have worried whether this is resistance or just plain ineptitude. Maybe I'm afraid I'll get enslaved to my outline. I need to know I can riff at will, then edit later.  It's just how I approach writing.

I will say that an outline of sorts emerges through the writing itself rather than the reverse.  Perhaps I’m a backwards writer. Oleksiew calls this writing in the moment. 

Oddly this approach stands in contrast to how I prepare for a workshop, a sermon, or a talk for example. I prepare and prepare and over-prepare even if I'm re-inventing the wheel and it's all stuff I know already and have spoken about before. I spend too much time on preparation. It’s a safety net against anxiety, going blank before an audience. Of course I can go blank before a blank page, too.  But before an outline it’s worse: I freeze—and feel furious. 

Outlines feel like girdles, those mini boa-constrictors women used to pour our flesh into to bind our bellies and inhibit out breathing. With a sermon I have it all on index cards—so neat. I read them over. Boring. Then I preach while I drive. Watching the road I can’t risk looking at notes. I preach until the sermon is in me, not on the cards. It grows its own wings. What hearers derive isn’t up to me.

Writing is organic like that. It grows as it goes. I follow more than lead. Sentence by sentence I become its disciple. It takes off. Time stops. When I return to it I’m not sure exactly what I’ve done but I know it has its own life. Revisions don’t give it life, just keep it alive—and ungirdled.

In the words of noted German contemporary painter Charline Von Heyl (b. 1960): “It is about the feeling that a painter, or any work of art, can give—when you stop looking because there is something that you want to find out, that you want to understand . . . good paintings have this tantalizing quality. And once you turn around, you absolutely cannot recapture them. They leave a hole in the mind, a longing.”

It occurs to me that God Creator worked not by outline but maybe like artist Jackson Pollack, splashing and smattering colors and critters around all over the cosmic canvas.  Some outline!

But, how else do you think the earth got so wildly colorful, varied, totally, erotically unmanageable—and easterish?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012.05.09 Debulking

I read (NY Times May 6 Book Review) the review of recent book, “Memoir of a Debulked Woman” by Susan Gubar, because the title fascinated my curious mind.

The word debulking is daunting. BIG!  At first I thought the author had been on a weight loss intensive program. I wish I’d been right. 

Debulking is the standard treatment for ovarian cancer.  My computer kept typing debunking!

Debulking is an operation of 6-8 hours in which surgeons attempt to remove as much cancerous tissue as possible where cancer cells are detected, and organs where malignancy has spread. The body is sliced open from navel to pubic bone.

Gabar is quoted: "Think of debulking as evisceration or vivisection or disemboweling, but performed on a live human being."  Pretty heroic and draconian.  In less formal words YUK!  and EEUWWW! But I admire the author’s candor and her willingness to inform us all, sparing no details.

This massive procedure extends life but rarely cures. Gabar’s treatment was "suboptimal."  Most debulkings are. Optimal would be rare I suppose.

Gubar writes to make people aware of ovarian cancer which gets little public attention, is lethal and doesn't get a lot of research money thrown its way. Warning signs are bloat, fatigue, feeling of satiety ie. bulked up!

I know about ovarian cancer. I have blood tests and ovarian ultrasounds yearly to make sure my ovaries are OK.  My mom had ovarian and was lucky that the tumor they removed was all there was of it.  She lived for 15+ more years and didn't die of it. So rare my gynecologist didn’t believe me that she had it until I showed him her medical records.

Few women live to write about ovarian cancer.  I guess it's not as sexy as breast cancer.  (BTW, there's another book called "Breasts" exploring breasts as the basic anatomy of suckle rather than the sexualized anatomical appendages to fondle, expose, and show off that breasts have become. Hooters no less.) Woman as sex objects again. 

OK, whatever helps to get the public and medical attention women’s health requires. But I don’t see any bill boards or porn pulp for cows tits.

Debulking, however can be a metaphor for what many women in American culture try to do to their bodies with frantic diets and extreme weight-loss procedures like feeding tubes.

Need I say, not all diseases look the same in a woman’s body as they do in the male body, although medical treatments have often been based on how men respond and what men need to heal. Women need to be equivalent (of equal value)  not equal, as in the same. Trust me we’re not there yet.

Women don’t experience the Holy the same as men do either; nor do they talk about divinity or pray in the same way.  As a Spiritual Director I’ve found that women, with a little encouragement, pray in intimacy and freedom, their words and images less forumulaic, less encumbered by patriarchal institutional norms.

In God they trust. And God listens. Shame is not of Godde.   If you hear negative words inside you about yourself when you pray it’s NOT from God.

I am grateful to Susan Gubar who is doing a lot for us all by going public with such a painful and vulnerable topic. It’s hard to make yourself a political issue. But it’s necessary at times. I pray she will have a long remission.

Men and women alike, bless and love all your body inside and out, and dare to mention the unmentionables.

Hey,  how do you think I dared to read a script in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues WITH my clerical collar on?  Our parish acquired two new young women parishioners from that little unorthodox act of evangelism. Ya never know.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2012.05.13 Mama Mía

I get tired of Mother’s Day with all its Hallmark regalia. On the other hand it’s possible I will suck my thumb if one of my four beautiful adult children forgets.  (All remembered.)

But......since we have this designated day; and since I think mothers, biological and spiritual, are among the most noble and honored of creatures (men can mother, too); and since it’s Sunday and the readings and today’s liturgical prayers were more filled than usual with Father, heavenly Father, Lord and Father, etc. I honor Mother God with HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY.

Recently on Jeopardy the clue in the category of Ancient History was something like: The most famous couple. The answer that shot from my mouth was: Who were Adam and Eve?  Of course I was wrong and I don’t even remember what was correct. Antony & Cleo maybe?

But it got me thinking about Eve. Her name in Hebrew is Havva/Life-Giver. She is the “mother of all the living,” according to Everett Fox’s translation of Genesis.  A first mama.

It’s hard to be a “first” anything, even if you’re a myth. I remember Episcopal Suffragan Bishop Barbara C.  Harris —first woman bishop and first African American woman bishop, a double first —saying it was a heavy responsibility: very hard to be an  icon (an image of holiness) to some and an iconoclast (a person who attacks cherished institutions and beliefs) to others.

(The icon/iconoclast description sounds like something any mother-loving/mother-hating teen would write: I need you. Go away!)

Eve/Havva would agree with Barbara Harris.  Eve, for some women, is a mythic icon for a bold woman with courage to reach out, break a sacred “rule,” use her precious God-given gift of freedom to get out of paradise (too boring, no?) and live life to the full, all its joys and sorrows, sins and glories.  Eve, for some others, is an iconoclast:women are supposed to follow, not lead. For her offenses she had been earned the undeserved identity as the author of death and sin, and the cause of all the world’s worst patriarchal problems. If it weren’t for her........   All this over an ersatz apple? 

The story is a familiar one: Eve took all the blame while Adam, who himself ate with gusto of the forbidden fruit, nodded, peach juice dripping down his chin, pointed a finger, and tried to hide.

To the men in my life, sons and stepsons, friends and husbands,  I say, thanks for not following the pattern. To Dad I say thanks for having honored your three daughters with grace—and a little resistance, most of it about the cost of women’s clothes.

Mothers nurture, protect and care, and mothers make mistakes.  God is a mother, a birther of the universe who like a womb surrounds Creation with love and grace and buoyancy, like water does a swimmer.   The 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich calls Jesus, “our beloved mother who feeds us with his own body and blood.”  We all have a mothering spirit in us.

Who mothers you?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2012.05.09 One Guru, Two Gurus, Three, Four, and More

I went to hear Gloria Steinem speak in the early ’80s at Hartford College for Women in Connecticut. The lecture hall was packed with over a hundred women—and three men, one of them my husband who indulges most of my whims and also counts himself a feminist.

There were no seats except a few banking the side of the podium right up front. The usher apologized for the unfortunate sidelined seats. We thought they were perfect. Who would worry about a front view when you can view, with no neck craning, a profile as glamorously elegant as Steinem’s? 

The last time I’d  felt swoony like that was as a young teen over Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Steinem was graduated in 1956 from Smith College, just 4 years ahead of me. I didn’t even know that; nor had I read her books and was not a subscriber to Ms magazine.  But I was in love with Steinem’s voice because she was saying out loud in the public media what I’d sequestered in journals over many years. She awakened my soul and stretched its every nerve, as the hymn text suggests.

I wanted to hear that voice with my ears. She’d become one of my gurus, a spiritual teacher who had nothing to do with church, religion, or even spirituality in an obvious way.

Gloria Steinem embodied a whole movement. She wasn’t the first to stand up for women’s rights but she has remained the go-to guru for over 40 years since first advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970. (That was three years before I knew I even needed a woman guru, or anything but the joy of my children’s laughter and the drone of the vacuum cleaner.) 

When Steinem stepped up to the podium the applause and cheers were as robust as any you’d hear today from crazy mad fans at a sports event or a rock concert.  Women can roar. 

I was surprised that Steinem, although passionate and eloquent, was quite soft-spoken. I expected  a pep rally voice or a preacha. I expected waving hands and pointing fingers. I expected a “man”! But Gloria spoke calmly, with focus and direction about justice for women. And she spoke without using the vocabulary of war and fight. Stunning!  Her presence and clear voice hushed the crowd and opened our ears.

At the end of her talk she commended the courage of the three men in the audience. They stuck out like sore thumbs.  With a wry but not derisive grin, Gloria Steinem made them “honorary women” to protect them for “the revolution to come.”

That gesture I’m sure was something Jesus would have done. It gave me the Easter shivers.

Currently Steinem is working at Smith College on an archive that reflects the diversity of feminism. Like Christianity, feminism is a movement not a place or a person, and it has ballooned, thanks to the Internet, into a vast network organized for gender justice and equivalence, and also for a just society period. 

So no single feminist guru has emerged.  But do we need one?

Feminism’s slowly emerging fourth wave isn’t the kind of enemy-driven push for inclusion and empowerment I was part of in the late ’70s.  It is more spiritual, steadied by the drum of multiple voices. Steinem herself is quoted in a March 18, 2012 article in the New York Times Sunday Styles section: “It’s obviously a great sign of growth and success that the media no longer try to embody the bigness and diversity of the women’s movement in one person.”

I am reminded of the biblical women at the tomb of Jesus, looking for their guru and finding an empty tomb, a burial shroud, and their own terror. So they ran away.  But they stayed together—and talked, as women do, maybe strategized about how to tell a miracle.

Later the small band of women hooked up with their brothers, discerned the message of Easter’s God of new life, and started a movement that grew, fizzled, grew some more, got inflated and exclusive, nearly lost breath, then re-membered its own message: We are centered in, and motivated by Love, not fear.

The biblical women decided that the best way to get something holy across was to do it together.  Even Jesus refused kingship and the kind of guru-worship his world demanded.

I still long for a guru. And I know there is a better way.   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

2012.05.06 Loss

I lose things a lot, not just my way on the road but things I value. Its annoying. And sometimes as I age I don’t even know I’ve lost something.

Like the time I was driving home from a retreat weekend in CT. and stopped to lose my pee in a rest stop near Attleboro, MA. The civilized in-house was “closed for renovations.”  Three noble portable out-houses stood by to accommodate.

A woman coming out of one of them made a face and commented to me “Pretty bad in there.” 

I didn’t need the review. I knew. But when you have to go, you have to go. (For once I was grateful for my diminished sense of smell.)

I drove the rest of the way home to Cambridge. As I came in the phone was ringing. It was my husband asking if I had my bag. “Sure,” I said. “No, you don’t,” he said. “Alex has it.”

I’d left my bag on the floor in the outhouse; Alex had retrieved it, called my daughter (the last call on my cell phone,) and she had called my husband asking, “Where’s Mom?” Alex, who spoke with a heavy accent, lived in Brookline, only a short drive, and he had my bag intact.

Driving to Brookline I imagined Alex, whose accent I’d identified as Russian,  as a dashing diplomat or maybe a rugged writer. The man who stood on the street as we drove up to the address had a cigarette butt hanging out of one side of his mouth and scraggly long blond hair.  I knew this wasn’t Alex.

“You Leen?” the man said.

I nodded.  “Yah, he said. I recognize you by your por-tray-t.” 

Alex led us upstairs to his apartment where he presented my bag and insisted I take accounting of everything in it. It was all there, even the cash. I offered him some cash which he refused with a toss of his head while he was holding back a large barking dog, Russian wolf hound type.

“No worry, “said Alex,” “He bark, no bite.” 

As we left Alex shared his first grin, “No worry. My wife she leave her wallet all over town all the time.”  His wife, who it seemed didn’t speak much English, stood by nodding and smiling assent.
                                                            *  *  *
Earlier that same weekend as Alex the good Russian,  I lost, for the third time, one of my  tiny diamond earrings.  The tiny earring AND its backing were on the floor of the shower at the retreat house. (The first time I’d retrieved both in the trap of the sink; the second time I found one glimmering among the dust kitties under the dresser.) Real diamonds—not shiny fakes.  I’d said a prayer each time, just in case, and thought of the woman in the Bible story who searched diligently for one lousy little coin until she found it. A parable of divine love.

I don’t think God finds things things for careless fools like me. I pray because I talk to God. And maybe that connection soothes my anxiety and helps me focus my attention. Loss happens when I’m distracted. 

That I find things or that honest people like Alex exist in the world are lovely accessories. They matter and fill me with gratitude, but what really matters most to me is this spiritual gleaning:  Nothing is ever lost in God’s economy—and no one is a loser.  


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012.05.02 Blogoir: Gift, Miracle, Table

Miraculousness, my status at birth according to my mother,  made me too precious for Mom to hug much but not too precious to fuss over.  She defined miracle as something God does for you without you. I’d seen the picture of me inside of her and obviously she was a partner in the making of this miracle. I became suspicious. Either God or Mom was lying but what little child can choose between these two deities?

Being “a gift from God” had more promise for me as an identity than miracle. I preferred being a gift because a gift required intention and thoughtfulness, even love, while a miracle seemed like a flash-in-the-pan quick fix.  Also, no one in their right mind, even my theologically addled mother, would turn down a present as adorable as she said I was.

Preferences aside however, both spiritual ideas imparted to my young and curious mind a fascination with God. Who was this divine guy and how did He choose me for His gift?

At first I confused the whole masculine divinity idea with my father because Mom always called him  “my divine guy.”  It seemed she confused us both with God. It was easy to tell Dad wasn’t that heavenly. Someone as big as God who created the whole world and all that was therein (words I heard from a book)  probably didn’t drink martinis and nightly neglect the daughter who was a gift from God to him also. Wasn’t she?

My father held the magic glass. He twirled the stem between his thumb and forefinger. My mother had a different glass, tall with ice and dark fizzy liquid in it. Still, Daddy’s glass drew worship from both of them. What was wrong with my mother?  She had told me this was supposed to be the “children’s hour” like the poem said. Their elitist nightly ritual disgusted me.  It hurt, too.

I stomped away from the sanctuary of the parental Cocktail Hour leaving my parents to gaze at the long-stemmed triangle-shaped glass filled with clear liquid and three enormous green cross-eyed olives. Too big to float they nestled near the stem, their red eyes staring out at me in a menacing way—the evil olive eye.

I found refuge under our large dining room table with the cloth to the floor. I took off my slippers and left them outside the tablecloth—token good girlism.  Then I crawled in under the table,  sat cross-legged on the worn maroon carpet, and hiked my yellow nightie with the tiny flowers all over it up over my knees.

For company I took my three imaginary friends; for food I took some Ritz crackers I’d snitched from the cocktail tray. I lined the crackers up on one of the cross beams  and started my “sermon”— a lively one-way conversation with God who joined the group and, unlike my distracted friends,  was the only one who listened attentively and unflinchingly—and listened and listened at a time when no one else did. 

After I’d turned myself inside out chattering I was hungry and it was time for our meal. I ate my Ritz cracker and left the other four lined up on the cross beam. I felt sure my communicants would come for them after I went off to bed, but of course my mother would have retrieved them, knowing that my faith in my three imaginary friends depended on it. She never asked about the fourth. 

That was how I got my image of God, how I first knew for sure that I mattered no matter what, and how I invented a eucharist.  I felt this experience could be the greatest story ever told.

Some days I still wonder.