Friday, November 3, 2023

F ³: Incense and Annihilation


Someone I know posted a link to Saint Mark’s Church in Philadelphia showing part of their All Saints Day service. I watched some of it - - a procession, a hymn, incense, chanting, perfectly measured steps and turns and bows. 

I couldn’t make it to the end because it brought back so many memories of my years as a paid chorister in Episcopal churches. Painful memories. Conflicted memories. It is hard and stressful work to make those services look beautiful and fluid and to place each note with the right timing and tuning. I wasn’t there because I considered myself to be a humble servant of the Almighty God but because I was divorced with a kid and couldn’t make ends meet on my teacher’s salary.

Watching that footage of high church worship flooded me with a feeling that I was looking at a foreign land I had once visited but where I did not wish to return. While I was there it was all that I knew: the rhythm of my days filled to overflowing with parenting, teaching, singing another service, rehearsing for the next one, struggling to get by.

And now, watching and listening to a choir singing “For All the Saints” all I could think was, “What does God want?” 

I don’t know. There are so many ways to believe and so many ways to worship. It seems wrong to me to cling to one as the Most Perfect. And there are many people who are not drawn to any form of worship but whose lives are imbued with goodness because that is what they value and care about.

Perhaps for them the question is not “What does God want?” but instead “What do I believe is right?”

Either way, either question - - I struggle. And the struggles these days are so much bigger than whether or not I would choose a high church service with a professional choir and incense. Israelis slaughtered and abducted by Hamas. Palestinians in Gaza: trapped, bombed, with dwindling resources. I mourn with Jewish friends. I mourn with Muslim friends. I fear that expressing care for one will feel like betrayal to the other.

What does God want? What do I believe is right? Does it even matter what I think? Will humans forever be separating ourselves into sects and defending our worst impulses as “something that God wants?”

No matter who we are, targeting civilians is wrong. No matter which side we think we belong to, considering the deaths of children to be collateral damage is wrong. Ignoring war crimes when it suits us is wrong. 

Here is a brief video which started my day today. It is from the social media account of Little Amal.


There is no prayer, no hymn, no procession, no incense that can mask the cries of children. 

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