Loneliness and Eucharist
Writing about my sheroes while missing "Deke" at the altar
I’m working on the penultimate chapter of my book Blessed Are the Barren, on track for a May 2 manuscript deadline, and this chapter—on clergy—is by far my favorite yet. Right now, I’m fully immersed in research and writing about Pauli Murray (I admire Dr. Murray SO MUCH), and I’m looking forward to finishing off with Barbara Harris; but the chapter started with Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first female priest in the Anglican Communion, ordained to the priesthood in China in 1944, after serving as a rector while a deacon in wartime and being authorized to consecrate communion elements for two years as an emergency measure.
All three of these priests (one became a bishop) are just blowing my mind this month. My hope with this book overall, with its chapters on biblical women as well as reformers and writers and medical personnel and composers and activists is to offer an alternative for women without children beyond “get fertility treatment or adopt.” We can also live fruitful and faithful lives without becoming mothers. I hope this book will also enable those who choose not to have children to feel affirmed in their choice. These three women in particular are so extraordinary, however, that I worry that some of us (me) might get discouraged because we can never accomplish what they did. Still, I’m far more inspired than discouraged, and hope (obviously) that my eventual readers will be as well.
I can’t stop thinking about one comment Florence Li Tim-Oi made in the book Much Beloved Daughter, which I was able to borrow from The Bishop Payne Library—my seminary library—even though it’s two hours away (deep thanks Dr. Mitzi Budde, head librarian, and Vincent Williams, who has been so helpful in my research the past year). Li described her first experience of celebrating the Eucharist as “lonely.” She was accustomed to presiding over communion with someone, but since no priests were available, she had to do it on her own.
I first found that idea of loneliness during Eucharist surprising—after all, Eucharist is a communal event. The first time I celebrated the Eucharist was using Rite I in December 2007 at the 8:00 AM service at Old Donation Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach. My husband Gary was present, as well as all three of my siblings. It was an incomparable experience. But afterwards, I drove my siblings to the airport, and Gary returned to DC where he was stationed, and I was alone that Sunday night with leftovers. Lonely.
I thought about that loneliness when I celebrated the Eucharist last Sunday, because we are using Rite I at St. David’s during this season of Lent. I also thought about Li’s loneliness because while I was at the altar, I missed my dear friend and partner in ministry Deacon Bill Jones (we call him “Deke”) who is now in an assisted living facility so was not standing next to me, where we used to make each other laugh moments before and after serving each other the bread of life and the cup of salvation with passion, reverence, and joy. I felt close to Florence Li Tim-Oi as I celebrated by myself. I look forward to celebrating again this Sunday following my new knowledge of Dr. Pauli Murray. I’ve already written my Holy Saturday sermon featuring Murray prominently with a Holy Saturday experience from her life.
Catch you all next month, when I hope to be finishing my summary chapter and polishing everything else.
What I’m Reading:
I read two small books by/about Florence Li Tim-Oi that I won’t link to here because they are both out of print. Somebody write a new one please! She is a marvel and deserves a multiplicity of biographies in print.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I learned that a school district was considering moving this book off of an optional reading list for high school seniors. I had never read it, so I did and learned so much about Biafra. I sincerely hope the book remains on the reading list.
Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal: Interesting novel. I remember enjoying Geek Love back in the 90s and this is somewhat similar in content/theme.
Promise of the Pelican by Roy Hoffman: One of my Spalding professors wrote this fast-paced yet literary with a strong theme of civil rights. Recommend!
Song in a Weary Throat by Pauli Murray: Due to this book’s length and my impending deadline, I was tempted to skip ahead to the last two chapters that covered her priesthood experience and am grateful that I didn’t because I would not have had the same sense of what an amazing person Dr. Murray was. Makes me think of how a lot of exegesis often goes into sermons, but those who hear said sermon aren’t aware of all of the layers beneath the apparently folksy insights. (One of my homiletics professors used to say, “Don’t let your exegesis show.”) Anyway: few things irritate me more than reading, “This should be required reading.” So, I will not write that. But I regret that I did not read this book in seminary or when in the process of ordination. I hope future aspirants and postulants and seminarians will become much more aware of Dr. Murray than I was. What an utter inspiration.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley: A thriller, for those of us who enjoy the genre.
What I’m Writing:
I should have a few pieces publishing in the next month, but for now all I have to offer are sermons:
What’s in My Earbuds:
Nomad Podcast. When I excitedly told my friend and fellow priest Dale Custer that Sophfronia Scott was going to speak to St. David’s book club about her book The Seeker and The Monk, he told me that he had just heard an interview with her on this podcast.