Faith’s Fire

As per The Daily Post’s prompt.

Let me burn for thee, O Lord.
Let my witness be a testament to thy sacrifice.
Let my life be thine.
Through thee, with thee, and in thee,
Let all things be possible,
For thine is the glory.

Set my faith afire for thee, O Lord.
Let me never know a dark night of the soul.
Let me find comfort in thy Word always.
For through thee, with thee, and in thee,
Let all things be free,
For thine is the glory.

Ignite my love for thee, O Lord.
Sate my thirst for forgiveness with thy mercy.
Feed me thy Body and thy Blood that I might always know thee.
For through thee, with thee, and in thee,
Let all things be redeemed,
For thine is the glory.

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Communing With Nature

Today’s prompt is pleasure, and given how lovely my past few days have been, I’m going to take this post to count my blessings.

I have so many wonderful things to be glad of. I have a wonderfully supportive family who have been there from day one for me. I have a group of friends who never fail to cheer me up. I have pets I adore beyond all reason, a school I love attending, a city that is bursting with beauty, and a faith that shines brighter than the sun.

Even outside of me, though, there are so many beautiful things in the world. Right now, the flowers are in bloom, splashes of colour against effervescent greens. The heady aroma they emit perfumes the air as well as the familiar scent of warm grass. Fluffy, white clouds scudding across a blue sky, listening to the soft splashing of the river while a gentle, cool breeze ruffles hair. It’s a scene reminiscent of Paradise, and that’s exactly what today looks like where I am.

I’m so lucky to be able to enjoy scenes like this. I’m so lucky to be able to go outside, sit in the grass or on a river rock, and just enjoy the day for what it is. No expectations, no distractions from cellphones… just me and nature. Me and the spirit of the land. It’s such a profound feeling, and yet so very peaceful. There is so much peace to be found outside in nature, even in our own backyards. One doesn’t even need to think of anything in particular (though reflection is always a good idea) in order to enjoy. Just take deep breaths, close your eyes, and feel.

Pleasure comes from all kinds of different sources, and I find it also tends to have different strengths of feeling. For instance, the pleasure you feel from playing with your dog after a long day’s work is very different from the pleasure you feel at scoring the winning goal at a hockey game. And yet, these are both valid expressions of what pleasure really is. At the heart of it, it is an expression of joy, and of our affection and closeness to the object that brings out this emotion in us. It is altogether complex and simple.

My birthday will be upcoming, and some of my family members have expressed an interest in stopping by to visit me, which will be nice. It’s been quite awhile since I have seen any of them so I will very much enjoy having them near me, even if it is only for a little while. We also have a birth in the family coming up in September, and I’m trying to make arrangements to see the mother-to-be for her baby shower. Busy, busy, busy!

While I have so far been able to keep to my commitment to post at least once per day on my blog, I’ve recently been offered an opportunity that may cut into the time I have currently allotted for Canterbury Convert. I am still trying to work out whether it will be possible to post daily here in addition to this other commitment, but if not, I may switch to a posting frequency of every other day. At the very least, I’d still like to post three or four times per week here (if only for my own sanity).

I’d like to close off by wishing my Canadian readers a happy Canada day!

A Date Has Been Set

While I got this news yesterday, I deferred writing about it until I had time to gather my thoughts so I could articulate what I wanted to say. While The Daily Post does have a post prompt available for today, I’m going to detour from that so I can share my good news.

At mass on Wednesday (my local parish hosts mass on Wednesdays and Sundays) I arranged to speak with my priest afterwards to discuss baptism. After months of discernment, education classes, and chatting with my good friends, I decided to take the plunge to discuss arranging my baptism. My priest agreed that I was ready for the Sacrament, and after hammering out some further details, a date was decided.

On August 21st, 2016, I will be administered the first, and arguably the most important, Sacrament. I will be cleansed of sin, and officially welcomed into the Church as a sister of Christ by my fellow faithful.

Despite taking an entire evening to reflect on the momentous life event that will be forthcoming, words are still failing me. I am taking great pride in the gift that I will be receiving, and I am also taking pride in the fact I did things the “right” way. I took classes, prayed, discerned, and ingratiated myself into the life of my parish, so I could be sure of what I was doing. There are so many out there who I think have an almost blasé attitude towards the Sacraments, perhaps not understanding their significance, or why we must be prepared before we receive them. These are holy rites; moments in our lives that cannot be repeated or “done over”.

I am truly elated over my good fortune. It felt good to hear my priest confirm that he also thought I was ready to take my baptismal vow, and having a date to look forward to makes things all the more exciting. This is finally – finally – happening. After the long study slog, I will finally see my faith bear fruit.

My only disappointment is that, with my family as far-flung as they are, there will likely be no one there to witness this for me. This is unfortunate, and I would have loved to share my special day with them, but sometimes life gets in the way, and we have to “go it alone”. Luckily, my parish family will be there to watch and receive me, so there is consolation in that.

Of course, baptism is only the first step of my conversion journey. There is so much more to learn, explore, and reflect on in the coming years, and I hope to keep writing about my experiences!

The Body City

As per The Daily Post’s prompt.

I am familiar with vacations,
For I vacation almost daily,
Finding something new to add to the list,
Of attractions of my body.

There are so many things worth seeing,
Even those things which are “the bad side of town”,
Perhaps a little run down and in need of repair,
But they have so much potential.

In the land of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome,
The population fluctuates, with the numbers going down then back up,
And day by day one realizes one is merely a visitor,
Only a tourist in one’s own body.

This feeling of strangeness soon passes,
The way it does when one visits a place one has already been to,
Even if the destination changes radically,
Even when you have moments where one no longer recognize who is in the mirror.

But though one may come to find familiarity in PCOS,
And try to add stability through wellness plans and self-help books,
With tables laden with green food on attractive plates,
Know that one is forever a tourist, and never a native.

To Enter The Church

Today’s prompt is water, and I admit that when I saw it I smiled. There was only one thing I wanted to write about as soon as I saw the word, and I think my Christian brethren know what that is.

Baptism is the first rite of passage so many faithful undergo in their journey to becoming full-fledged members of the Church. It is a rite found in Scripture, lovingly detailed for us to read about time and time again, and is arguably the most famous Sacrament known even to those who are not Christian (tied for that honour is Communion, but that is for another post). Baptism can be done either by sprinkling water on the head, or by full immersion; that is, being fully submerged in water. The delivery tends to vary from parish to parish.

One thing that has really stuck out to me in my own spiritual journey is how little anyone discusses adult baptism. There is an assumption that most will be baptized as babies, and undergo the Sacraments at the appointed age, but this isn’t true for a select group of Christians who find their faith later. Something that was frustrating for me as an adult convert – particularly when researching for a church in my area to attend – was going to the Sacraments part of a website, clicking on Baptism, and finding only information related to infant baptism. There was never anything about adult baptism.

It took awhile for me to discover that baptism, and the other Sacraments, lay behind the gate of catechesis classes. This is the case for several denominations, although it is true that some churches offer baptism as a standalone Sacrament. Upon learning of this, I felt somewhat torn. Did I want to go ahead with a baptism now, and then find my place on the spectrum of faith later? Or did I want to take the journey in one go, and take the classes in the church I felt was home, accepting the Sacraments only after I felt prepared?

Needless to say, I opted for the latter. I wanted my conversion to mean something. I wanted to do it the “right” way, since there wouldn’t be a “do over”. I wanted to learn and grow in faith in the church that was right to me, and only after proper preparation would I take my place as a full member of the faithful.

Baptism is such a special Sacrament. It is the first we receive, and it is so powerful. By being baptized with the grace of the Trinity we are being cleansed of our sins and welcomed as a brother or sister of Christ. We are being marked as one of God’s own, and nothing and no one can take that away from us. It is the first step we ever take on a holy path, and for many of us it is taken even before we can walk. There’s something truly profound about that.

I have always associated water with cleansing, and as having some kind of healing power. It is mysterious and beautiful, very serene in its own right. It is fitting that it is the conduit of grace for Christ, and that it should be used to wash away our sins as we become a new-born member of the Church community.

Schism

As per The Daily Post’s prompt.

A shaky foundation,
A glimpse of what could be,
Hidden amongst the faithful,
But not seeing the faith.

Quiet afternoons,
Hard pews and harder words unspoken,
Inner turmoil spilling over,
A lost sheep’s lonely bleat.

Longing to be returned to the flock,
Not knowing the way through treacherous mountains,
At the moment of giving up,
He found her.

Prince of Peace, the shepherd who knows the way,
To be found by Him and returned home,
In infinite mercy and tenderness,
All previous harshness forgiven.

To be far from His glory is pain unending,
To be separated from Him is to know true heartache,
To be found again after a lifetime lost,
Is to know truly what it means to be saved.

Never again shall the lost sheep wander far from the flock,
Never again shall harsh words fall from her tongue,
For she has lived through the deprivation of the Lord,
And known the terror of schism.

Straddling The Fence

The prompt today is fence, and given how early I am still in my conversion journey, it feels like this is a good place to discuss my reasons why I chose this path, and the kinds of things I still struggle with daily.

For those who have read my first post (my introduction), you’ll have a sense of the circumstances that led me to begin Canterbury Convert, and also a bit about what my life was like before I started making overhauls. However, though I touched a bit on my previous religious experiences, I didn’t really go into much detail. I’m going to change that today by discussing one of the issues that so many Christians in today’s world have to deal with: the denomination struggle.

I grew up in a largely Protestant home, with an atheist father. There wasn’t much in the way of a formal religious education. My father’s side was Catholic, so we had a “look in” with their rites of passage, which always left me feeling bereft. It felt like they got to do all the “fun” things, while we were stuck doing nothing. I was never baptized, or confirmed, and despite a short stint in Sunday school we rarely even went to Sunday mass. We were taught a few basic prayers, told Jesus loves us, and that was essentially that.

As a result of this, I never really felt at home in a church. I felt awkward and out of sorts, with my anxiety spiking every time I was forced to be in one. I distinctly recall an anxiety episode when an old girlfriend of mine took me to her church on Sunday, and I rather ignominiously had to rush out after mass to the flower garden on the side of the building to catch my breath and try to calm down. I felt embarrassed, overwhelmed, and like I would never belong to the larger community that everyone else did.

Over time – and many years later – I gradually began to find the beauty in religion and particularly in churches again. I studied architectural history, falling in love with the stained glass and ancient wood, as well as the old stone. I studied the history of parishes, falling in love with their fights for social justice, religious tolerance, and equality. Through my love of English history, I fell in love with figures like John Fisher, Katherine of Aragon, and Mary Tudor. In looking to the past to find my footing in the future, I had been wrapped up in the fervour of faith that characterized this point in history.

But where to plant my roots, so I could start flourishing?

The writings of the Church Fathers were instrumental in first bringing me to Catholicism, of which I had had glimpses from my childhood. I was familiar by sight with the rites of baptism, confirmation, first communion, and so on. Through learning more about the traditions, I became more and more enamoured with the ancient history. However, I also had a soft spot for Orthodoxy, with its beautiful icons, equally ancient rites, and the quiet dignity it possessed. Ultimately, however, between the two of them I kept returning to Catholicism, so I decided to give RCIA a try.

I lasted about four months, meeting with a priest one-on-one weekly due to a work schedule that did not permit me to attend the parish’s RCIA class. I was on board with just about everything, except for the social policies. Now, I am fortunate to live in a country where even most Catholic priests are quite liberal; me being gay wasn’t considered an impediment to being received into the Church. However, on a personal level, I had a lot to think about. Socially, I am a liberal person: I am pro gay marriage (obviously; I am due to be married myself!), I am pro-choice, and I take an opposite stance to many “official” Catholic teachings. Did I truly want to align myself with a denomination that officially denounced me and those like me? Did I truly feel comfortable with knowing that the religion I would profess took a hard stance that who I was was not acceptable? How could I go against my conscience and try to argue with others to defend social positions that I did not agree with?

Ultimately, despite being on board with the tenets and tradition, I chose to drop RCIA because I made the choice that I could not, in good faith, pledge myself to a denomination that I felt was wrong on its social positions. While this was a difficult decision to make – and one that still agonizes me from time to time – I think it is better to do what one thinks is right than to do what would be the most comfortable. While it was extremely tough to walk away from something that I did believe in at its heart, I need to be somewhere where I feel welcomed and loved for who and what I am.

That led me to take a second look at Anglicanism, the close cousin of Catholicism. While they are very different when it comes to some tenets, the High Church Anglicans celebrate mass in the trappings that make my soul sing. The pageantry and pomp is the same, and some of the traditions are as well. Anglo-Catholicism is something I have come to research more closely, finding it an interesting prospect, and there are bloggers like the Conciliar Anglican who make solid arguments in favour of blending the two traditions (perhaps more accurately, finding what it means to be catholic while following the Anglican methods).

There are days where I still find myself bouncing back and forth. The social policies of the Anglican Communion are much more in line with my own, and allow for a wider range of independent beliefs. I can blend what I loved about the Catholic Church and continue my understanding while also not tormenting my conscience into defending that which I feel is inherently wrong. And still, whenever I find myself in a Catholic chapel, or reading something truly profound in a hagiography, I give a little sigh, and the inner debate rushes forth for a few minutes.

Sometimes the answer is never easy, and perhaps it’s not supposed to be. There are positions that each denomination takes that can make them attractive to prospective converts, and in cases like mine, sometimes one can be “at home” in two different denominations for two different reasons, both being equally valid. I don’t know if I will ever not have moments where I briefly wonder if I have made the right decision, though it helps to read apologetics by those much wiser than I am on the subject. It definitely helps solidify my conviction that Anglicanism is the right place to be for someone like me.

In the meantime, during my downtime, I – and many other converts – will simply continue to straddle the fence.

We Saw It Coming

Today’s Daily Prompt is prophecy, and once again I find myself wondering if The Daily Post is doing just that with its prompts. While normally I am happy to sit down and allot an hour of my day to reflecting on a prompt and how it relates to my journey, today I’m going to take a detour with this one and write about something very different.

While I could talk about the many prophecies in the Bible, or about how receiving a diagnosis is like receiving a prophecy of one’s future; instead I’m going to share a personal story with you. It may not be easy to read, but I feel now more than ever this kind of story – and the millions like it – need to be told. They need to be remembered, and re-told, over and over and over again, until we no longer have any need to do so.

Late last night, my fiancée received the phone call she, and her family, had known would be coming. Her little cousin, the baby of their family, had been found dead in a friend’s apartment (with said friend also deceased) of a drug overdose. She had been in and out of rehab for years, and had been in a rough place recently. She had everything to live for. A beautiful daughter, parents who would move heaven and earth for her, and a supportive family who had been with her every step of the way. No one is sure why she chose to go out that evening, lying about her whereabouts, and prompting a police search – only to find her body, and not her.

This is a reality for millions of families just like my wife-to-be’s. This is a story played out time and time again, year after year, decade after decade. It is the story of beautiful, but wounded, souls in need of compassion and care, and of heartbroken families left to pick up the pieces after the tornado of tragedy decimates all they knew. It is the tale of addiction, and there are only two possible endings in this kind of Choose Your Own Adventure: recovery, or death.

When I met my fiancée, her cousin had been in a stable place. She was fresh out of rehab, had gotten a job, and was being allowed weekend visits with her daughter. She had chosen to renew her baptismal vows, and her entire family had gone to attend, flying in from as far away as Colorado and California. That year, at the family reunion, I heard the hushed, hopeful voices whispering: “Maybe she’s finally done it. Maybe she’s really going to be okay now.”

It would be six months later that she would overdose in her bedroom during a visit with her daughter, and her daughter would be running into the living room of the home she shared with her parents, crying, and saying, “Mommy’s eyes are rolling into her head!”

It would be a year and a half later that she would be back out of rehab, with only supervised visits permitted with that same daughter, and at the family reunion that year, I would only see sad eyes, and the whispers would be, “She will be the one we get the phone call about.”

That was the phrase I heard over and over, from my fiancée, her family, and even friends who knew this cousin. She will be the one we get the phone call about. The tone was always resigned, always sad; there was a degree of helplessness there too. She would be up, and then she would be down. She would stabilize, and then she would be falling off the bandwagon. Rehab stint after rehab stint, each longer than the last, and the discouragement when her parents would see her off one more time.

And now, she is gone. The prophecy has been fulfilled, to the heartbreak and devastation of this family left behind. Addiction has claimed another life far, far too soon. A little girl will grow up with too few memories of her mother, and a mother will have to bury her daughter when she should have been planning her retirement. Gone are the hopes of a wedding, more grandchildren, and a life full of promise. Gone, after “one last time”.

In writing this, I hope to add this story to the countless others that stand as grieving witness to the tragedy that is addiction and recovery. I hope to add another cautionary tale to the catastrophe that is “just once”. Most importantly, and with great sadness, I hope you will see that prophecies can be fulfilled, even when we would give anything to go back in time and re-write them.

Life Is A Voyage

The prompt today is voyage, and as I continue to make time to write here using the prompts I’m finding that I can immediately think of something to talk about that relates to each word. While my previous two entries have focused exclusively on my spiritual journey – the primary reason I started to blog – I am in fact on two journeys. One is related to growing closer to God through Anglicanism, and the other is my road to wellness with PCOS.

I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, quite recently, and have since made rather radical changes in my life to accommodate it. I have cut refined sugar and fast food from my diet, instituted strict portion control, and started an exercise regimen. None of these things has been easy, and I’m finding it difficult each and every day to maintain. It’s hard to upkeep changes that are positive in one’s life when one is surrounded by people who don’t value wellness or staying healthy. The majority of people whom I am steadily distancing myself from don’t value things like spirituality, wellness, or personal accountability. It was only when I really started hardlining the new lifestyle changes that I wanted to make – eating right, exercising, and prioritizing my faith – that I realized part of the problem I had was the company I was keeping. It’s such a cliché thing to say, but one really doesn’t realize how much of an influence the people one surrounds oneself with are until one really fights to change oneself for the better.

PCOS has made me realize that our society as a whole doesn’t seem to value the effort that is put into being, and staying, healthy. Sure, we love the end result. Our media is full of handsome, muscular men and beautiful, thin women. We are inundated daily with the message to take this pill or do that thing and we will suddenly be slender. But there is no real support system in place for the long slog to wellness. It’s not as easy as bariatric surgery and a follow-up diet. It’s getting up early, rain or shine, to do the jog. It’s forcing oneself to make the lunch that was planned whether one is feeling well or not. It’s the tears, the despair, and finally, the unbelievable joy when all of the work and the pain pan out to the muscle increase and lower fat ratio. It’s difficult. It’s so hard. And so many of us are going it alone, because we have to.

PCOS is a long voyage, where the sea is sometimes calm, and other times you are clinging to the mast and begging for relief. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes that is what makes recovery all the more insidious. Sometimes there are no immediate signs of improvement, and one begins to think that what one is doing isn’t working, so the old habits resurface and complicate everything. When all of one’s friends are going out to gorge on pizza and beer at the pub at 10pm, it can be a self-esteem hit to have to be “That Guy” and refuse, because the morning jog needs to take precedence. These are things we want to do – we desperately want to do – but for the sake of our health we have to refuse, and if we have friends who do not understand that, it can make it much harder than it has to be.

The journey to God can be like that, too. As we grow in our faith and take comfort in Scripture, sometimes we have to say no to things that sound like a lot of fun. Sometimes, we are surrounded by people who don’t understand the joy that we take in hearing the Word of God, participating in youth groups, or reciting rosaries. They don’t understand why we memorize our favourite Psalms, or why it’s worth it to wake up at 7am in order to make it to early mass. At the end of the day, we all have to make a choice in the company that we keep. Do we stay with those who don’t understand, and who ridicule our expressions of faith? Or do we seek out those who believe as we believe, and who will walk with us as brothers and sisters of Christ, encouraging us at each step?

In light of my diagnosis, and of my commitment to wellness in body and spirit, I have chosen to be selective with the people I surround myself with. Just as a devoted gardener will prune a tree of excess branches, so too have I pruned my “garden”, choosing to fill it with beautiful flowers of faith and love, and toss out weeds of negativity. I will make this voyage at sea – the spiritual, and the physical – one where I feel confident and loved amongst the crew, instead of trying to paddle alone in a dinghy.

This is my voyage, one that will last a lifetime. What is yours?

Sacred Space & Awe

Today’s prompt is Awe, which is one that I admit I’m kind of excited to write about. There are so many different topics relating to faith that are suitable for inclusion, but I think I’m going to choose a somewhat unorthodox one – sacred space.

Sacred space is holy. It’s a place where the faithful congregate with the intention of devotion and praise to their religious head. In a Christian sense, sacred space is everything from a stately Renaissance monastery to a homely icon corner. It encompasses a place where we go to feel closer to God, and to bask in the presence of the Almighty. It is holy balm to a wounded and aching soul.

Perhaps that’s why today, after running errands around my university campus, I found myself quietly slipping into one of the chapels on campus. This particular chapel is extremely old (dedicated in 1908), and there is something truly magnificent about even standing in a holy place that has been around for literally over one hundred years. That’s one of the things I love about churches, chapels, monateries, and convents; the truly ancient ones are visible reminders of the everlasting grace of God that stands the test of time. To stand in them, or behold them with your eyes, is to witness something that has been around for generations; something that those who have passed on from this world also stood in, and beheld. It’s a sobering, yet comforting, thought.

While this particular chapel is not Anglican in nature (it is Catholic), I have found refuge from the chaos of campus here many times before, and the parish affiliated with it is where I briefly attended RCIA. It is quaint, with beautiful wood and marble, and the sanctuary itself is quite small. Stations of the Cross line the walls, and a traditional Confessional – complete with velvet hangings – is tucked away into a corner. Beautiful stained glass windows cause light to play across the altar in a smattering of colours that dazzles the eye, with the only other light from the array of candles lit at both the altar and the shrine to Our Lady, tangible reminders of the prayer intentions of the faithful.

It is in this chapel that I occasionally steal into between classes to regain my equilibrium. It is amongst these pews that I catch my breath, sitting in the quiet, smelling the heady scent of the incense, basking in the glow of the building. It is marvelous to behold such an imposing place, and I never cease to be awestruck each and every time I find my way here. This ancient retreat of the faithful, this holy sanctuary, has been on these grounds longer than I have been alive. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Christians have entered and worshipped within its walls, letting their voices and their faith be carried onward in memory by those who came after them. I think of all the others who have sat on the wooden pew before me as I quietly contemplate.

Today, there was only one other within the chapel, though I’m familiar with who she is by sight, if only because she is one of the only women in the parish who still wears a mantilla. I confess that this particular tradition has always been one that has snagged my heart, though I’ve never had the courage to don one myself, despite actually owning one. The local Anglican congregation does not have any among them who veil, so for now, I think it is likely to be a tradition I never quite follow myself (regrettably). Today, she was the scheduled adorer, and observing her piety as she viewed the monstrance, her lips moving as she recited her rosary, was quite inspiring.

One of the things I truly wish my university’s Anglican ministry would do is offer their own chapel for quiet contemplation daily. Unfortunately, the Anglican chapel is only available during mass on Sundays, and is closed the rest of the time. This is unfortunate, especially for those of us who wish access to the chapel for prayer (or even daily mass, for that matter). Being present in a sacred space, amongst other faithful, and meditating on life and Christ is something that I greatly value, and for me is also an expression of faith. It’s easy to sit on one’s bed and recite evening prayers, but to make a “mini pilgrimage” to the local chapel or church, actively seeking out a holy place of God, to make evening prayers in is something different altogether.

Sacred space is awe-inspiring, and chapels are timeless. They are beautiful places where we go to commune with God and grow closer to Christ. They are worth so much more than I think they are given credit for.