Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pope John Paul II interfaith memorial and me and my socks

Well, yesterday was an unexpected pleasure, although a comedy of personal challenges too. The clergy of the Tucson MultiFaith Alliance were graciously invited to participate last night in a remarkable memorial for Pope John Paul II at St. Augustine’s cathedral, hosted by the bishop. And it was a beautiful multi-faith, multi-cultural, multi-media event that focused on John Paul’s legacy of reconciliation between all religions, his love for all people and especially his work for the poor, for refugees, for youth. I do want to share that with you, and you can skip down to “the memorial” if you want... but I want to speak, humorously I hope, of my personal experience, as a nontraditional woman clergy, and busy at that. Pomp and circumstance is not a regular part of my life...most of you know me fairly well, and will smile along with me, and for those that don’t I hope I don’t seem too undignified.

At first I thought I couldn’t go. I was scheduled to host a DFA (Democracy for America) meeting at our home about the national Social Security initiative scheduled for April 14 at our congressional offices. I was preparing for that, but at midafternoon registration was almost nil, so at 3:00 I canceled it, RSVP’d for the memorial, and set about trying to get to the service. I was to be at St Augustine’s by 7:30, in the clergy room.

But our boys needed to be at the doctor’s office by 4:30 in Oro Valley, 45 minutes away at that hour. Still 45 minutes to get ready, I thought. Then, unexpectedly, I had to go pick one of them up at the bus stop at 3:30, which takes 15 minutes each way. Already you can see the math doesn’t work. I picked up the boy. Back home at 3:45. I took a quick shower, put my hairdryer and my ceremonial robes and clerical stole in the car and set out with the boys, late of course for the doctor. I’d dry my hair at the doctor’s office and change clothes at a restaurant. My robes weren’t the kind you just slip on over your clothes, and robes just don’t work at the doctor’s office.

So, we got out of the doctor’s office at 6 pm, and thankfully Darwin could take the boys home. I breathed deeply, made a few phone calls I had postponed earlier in my mad rush, and set out to find a restaurant downtown where I could grab a salad and relax. Then, at 7:15, I went into the restaurant ladies room to change my clothes and I found I had forgotten...stockings... OMYGOD, now what? Go barefoot in sandals, or wear the black socks I had on with my jeans? I decided socks, pulled them up as high as they would go, and the long robes might cover my faux pas if I walked very carefully. Probably the people wouldn’t look at my feet as we walked down the center aisle.

At St. Augustine’s, a splendor of faith leaders putting on robes or prayer shawls and waiting to process...happily, I know about half of the people there, including the one other woman clergy thank goodness, and two Sikh women
friends, who were being interviewed by the media. I am feeling really privileged to be included. A convivial buzz of greetings, the bishop is thanking each of us personally in his usual warm and graceful manner, and we are each welcoming the new Imam, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center, whom we are all very pleased to see in Tucson.

Another faux pas for Gerry. Well, a clatter of cultures. Most of the clergy are men. They were all introducing themselves and shaking the Imam’s hand, he was smiling and so were they, so I offered my hand in turn and gave my name...and he pulled his hand back. I had forgotten that in Muslim tradition men and women don’t touch. I was just following the other clergy. I blushed, withdrew my hand, bowed to greet him, and went outside for some air.

Finally, time to go in! Uh, what shall we two women do with our purses? You can’t exactly hang them over your shoulder as you walk in solemn procession, the men just have their wallets in their pants pockets. It is agreed to lock the clergy room during the service. After some instruction about who sits where and how to line up, at last Rabbi Sam Cohon of Temple Emmanuel sounded the Shofar from the dais as our call to worship. As the choir was singing “On Holy Ground,” we followed the candlebearers into the packed and beautifully decorated sanctuary two by two, with dignity I hope (despite the socks). The crowd was as varied as Tucson, and as the deep love of this pope for all the people would beget.

The memorial - While the lovely pictoral displays on the screen at the front of the room changed to show John Paul at various times of his life, the service included excerpts from the writings of the beloved late pope given during his many visits to different parts of the world – Africa, Oceania, Asia, America, and prayers were offered in 8 or 9 languages, interspersed throughout the service. Reflections were given by Pastor Grady Scott of Grace Temple Missionary Baptist church, Rabbi Tom Lochheim of Or Chadash, and Rev. John Fife from Southside Presbyterian church.

Pastor Grady likened the Pope’s transition to his own beloved family’s recent airplane flight away from him on family business– gone from sight, but welcomed at the other side. Rabbi Tom told of the pope’s visit to the Holy land, of his praying in a Jewish synagogue in Rome, and of saying that the Jewish people were elder brothers to the Christian religion. The Imam, Mohammed El Farqoori, chanted from the Koran of the Annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of Jesus, emphasizing shared Christian/Muslim beliefs. The Imam’s words were translated into English by professor Muhamed Asa’ad, who told of his own mentor’s close personal friendship with this pope, and their mutual prayer life together, including reading each others’ “books.” There were beautiful Sikh prayers chanted by Nirvair Kaur Khalsa and Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa. Rev. Fife spoke of the pope’s love especially for the poor and for immigrants and migrants, of John Paul’s comments on our responsibility to see to it that everyone can make a living in their native land and thus stem the necessity of migration, and yet the inherent human dignity and worth of the migrant. Of course, these comments are relevant to our own border. Rev. Thomas Buechele, from Bisbee’s St. John’s Episcopal church, spoke of standing at the border with “Women in Black,” in silent witness to the Minutemen project, at the exact hour of the pope’s passing, before offering prayer. At the end, a young woman read his last words to the people, a letter to young people, encouraging them basically to never give up, written on Palm Sunday of this year; very moving.

A beautiful and very poignant memorial to a unique human being, you could not miss John Paul’s abiding love of the earth and all its peoples, his deep-seated commitment to social justice, and his compassion and respect for ALL of life, that did not end at birth. Of course, we know he opposed abortion and even birth control, and stood against the ordination of women or the marriage of priests. But, his culture of life included ALL of life. He was profoundly opposed to the war in Iraq, and said so both privately and publicly to President Bush and the world. He was intensely opposed to the death penalty. He taught with deep conviction that it was the responsibility of those who are privileged and powerful to care for the poor and disenfranchised, to give them the means of not just survival but the means to thrive. He was greatly saddened by famine, preventable disease, human rights abuses, and genocide, around the world, and used his office to intervene as much as possible on many occasions. His own personal demonstration of reconciliation between people of all faiths, of acceptance and respect for all roads to God by whatever name led the way for the work that we do in our own Tucson community through the MultiFaith Alliance, and many other groups. His voice and witness will be sorely missed.

On the way home, in my robes and socks (they had by this time rolled down to my ankles), I stopped for milk at the grocery store – teenaged boys drink a lot of milk - enduring pointed stares from the young staff on hand at 11 pm at my wrinkled black ankles and bare pink leg showing as I walked quickly down the aisles, and came home to make amends for whatever I had not taken care of in the intervening eight hours.

The pews were hard, the service long, but I am so glad I went. It was an experience not to be missed, and I am glad you came along.

In peace, gerry


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