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The Episcopal Church Saved My Life, Mister

You’ve heard people say this: “Your book saved my life, Mister.” Garrison Keillor has written a great short story with the same name about a reader who meets the author of a life-saving (for him) book. Sometimes people’s lives are moved to change or transformation by a book, a film or other form of artistic expression. What is it about art that reaches down inside and mixes it up for us? I think it is because art speaks wordlessly to deeper things our hearts and minds recognize and to which they respond.

I ventured into the Episcopal Church with serious intent twenty-five years ago. Life had become a train-wreck for me, and only God could pull me through–at least that was my hope then. Good thing to hope in God at that time, because God acted. In the love I experienced from others, God touched me profoundly. When I felt most alone and unlovable God brought accepting, loving friends into my life and proved to me otherwise.

Earlier I mentioned art and its power to transform. When done well, liturgical worship becomes transformational art (this isn’t coming out right!), not JUST or ONLY art, for it is Good News–Gospel! But liturgical worship moved me profoundly those early days in my becoming Episcopalian; something in the way in which we worship speaks profoundly deep within me, and I sense and find God in liturgy in ways that I never experienced God before. I still do.

Looking back twenty-five years, not much in my life seemed headed in a positive direction nor did I feel much to live for. Things felt fatally bad for me then. I lost 15 lbs in two weeks. Slept most of the time. Cried way too much. The only thing that I felt I had going for me was that my mother needed me to drive her around–Dad had just died in January and she simply didn’t feel like driving anymore that winter and spring of 1984–and that I had started going to the Episcopal Church, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, in Warsaw, Indiana. Through entering that community, God touched me in a new way. I had been a “Christian” my whole life, for as long as I could remember, but at St. Anne’s (and later at the Cathedral of St. James, in South Bend) the love of God touched me like God had never touched me before. I felt as if I had come back to life: resurrected, sort of.

For the past twenty-five years, half of my entire life up to now, I have been feeling pretty blessed beyond belief. I believe it comes from my desire to try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I have never done this perfectly, but feel I am getting more proficient at it, all these years later. I know this sounds weird, but I have discovered that He helps me with it. I get better at it when I ask Jesus for help with it. The same is true for all who aspire to be his disciple. When we ask, He helps us. Makes sense when you think about it; all good teachers do this kind if thing, help their students who ask for help.

I have found good teachers in the Episcopal Church, as well, and have read and learned from the lives of saints: Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyola, Henri Nouwen, to name a few. The wisdom gained from these lives, these disciples of Jesus had never been tapped for me before, and I still drink deeply from them. Anglicanism has brought me a sense of swimming in the river of Church history–of salvation history–like no other church had before. From these currents I find much to strengthen and inform my own walk in Christ. Oh, not to mention the heavy emphasis on scripture reading in our worship; never before have I spent as much time in the Gospels as I have since joining the Episcopal Church. And guess what? I know Jesus better! There is actually more to the New Testament than the writings of Paul. Go figure.

So this Easter, I want to say thank you again to God for bringing me this way, screaming and kicking and fighting–and being a knucklehead at times. Thanks for your patience, God. I give thanks because since you haven’t given up on me, it makes it easier for me to not give up on myself. We human beings are so quick to chuck ourselves under the bus with criticism, yet God’s love abides. I’m getting that finally, and applying it toward myself. Less of knucklehead on that one these days.

And joy! The Episcopal Church is the first church in which I ever experienced holy joy in being at church and worshiping with others. Joy in fellowship, joy at coffee hour. Or maybe that’s just me, and the way it hits me being in this freedom that God’s grace provides and gives. Holy freedom. What a life transforming concept. Like… resurrection. And art. May my life be holy art, Lord, crafted in your image with thanksgiving for this freedom.

Alleluia! Christ is risen, indeed! And so am I, Alleluia!