Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

A Body of Initiation

A Body of Initiation

O Mighty Dead, for me from Whom my body and spirit have come to be…

O Great God Your Femmeself, for me Goddess of my genderpower, beauty, and strength…

O Great God Who is Not Gendered, for me the One Who Knows Forward and Backward…

O Inexorable!

And, as the Bard wrote, “O, for a Muse of fire!”

flames on black background

The crises of arrival and transition have been written on my body. Written in scars inside my lungs and cervix, in scars on my skin, and in wounds that still are seeping as they heal on my psyche.

Years of Initiation

2014:  Emboli, four of them, threaten my life as I go from congregation to congregation and fall in love with one search committee who would eventually choose someone else. My dream of congregational ministry begins to shift and change. I am changed, returned to my community with a new identity beginning.

2015: I spike a fever the day of my ordination, and begin the shape-shifting ordeal of initiation. My leg is full and bursting with cellulitis. I have no idea what is going on and my body moves my mind into the realm of Mystery more thoroughly than any deep breaths, any Centering and Opening could do.

Sometimes in delirium I remember only that there are people, so many people, so, so many in the receiving line.

Nonetheless, I am changed, returned to my community with a new identity beginning. Later that summer, The Way of the River would begin crowning between the thighs of my mind and spirit.

2016: Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood impossibly much blood and all the time. Blood from my bed to the bathroom. Blood I couldn’t get out of the places it got into. Blood that made our cleaners fire us. Months of embarrassment and fear and shame.

And then learning that I had a polyp through my cervix. My gynecologist, ever direct:  “It looks like a full-sized tongue that is being strangled at the root. Your body is bleeding to try to get rid of it.”

I love it when bodies and dreams are hard to decipher, don’t you?

2017: Flayed, ravaged, torn by the dogs of the Psalms on the inside. Bruised on the inside, my psyche, my spirit, the Wind from God. How do you bruise the wind? Am I changed? Am I being returned to community with a new identity beginning?

March and April have each been cruelest months in their time. I’d like it to stop please, but I do not reject what has been.

I consider taking a photo of my scarred leg, of the inside of my belly folds, of my belly button, of my faded and stretched tattoo. I would photograph the scars of my lungs if I could. A copy of my CT scan, perhaps?

So much to say here about beauty and ugliness and strength. Another time, perhaps.

The Ravages of Spring

Spring, I welcome you. I welcome you and your terrifying powers of initiation. I love your pale blue sky and your warmth and cool and rain and sun. Most of all I love your greening and your growing and budding and flowering so raucously, with rhododendrons, iris, and euphorbia gamboling up against houses and bursting your planted boxes.

Spring continues and I went to see my primary care person yesterday, K. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner whom I adore, and who is also the best PCP I’ve ever had. I get happy and excited to see my doctor.

What?! Yes.

She looked over my belly, into the folds of me where my fatness wraps over itself and I was joyful. To let someone into those most tender of my physical places. More tender than the “rose-wet cave” Adrienne Rich writes about in “The Floating Poem, Unnumbered,” because these folds are places of much greater injury and shame than my vulva ever has been.

And yet, K brought a touch both matter-of-fact and honoring to where there had previously been only shame. The shame of fat that lies upon fat.

I say this as a sexual assault survivor.

Being fat. Being reviled. And being BLAMED all the time over and over, even today, even now in the minds of people who otherwise love me is a wound that has not healed and may never. This, this is worse, in its way, than the violation of my 13-year-old body.

Being told over and over that everything wrong with me, from depression to infection to shyness to extroversion to mania to sinus pressure is my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

No. There is no fault. There is only what has been given, what grows, the times I try and fail, the other times I fail. The times it takes me months to bring forth what I hope.

Spring is hard, and this one has been full of hard for me and mine. But yet! Blessing in the midst of fever.

woman sitting on bench, wearing black robe and red stole. Two others standing behind her in robes with stoles. One man on his knees in front of her with hands raised.

Initiation after initiation, we begin again, made new.

It is only for us to discern, to try to perceive the initiations, I think, and to accept the newness that comes after wounding, fever, or tearing pain. It is for us to accept the offering of the world:

“The world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, / harsh and exciting, / announcing your place / in the family of things.” (Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”)

Thank You, Great and Mighty, and Tiny and Whispering, You Blessed One/s, for Your gifts of resilience, endurance, courage, and lovelovelove. Thank You for this body, Your body, given for me.


4 Responses

    1. Thank you, Karen. I want to show what is not often seen, and wow, when this came through, it was certainly that!

  1. This moved me to tears. So so much I relate to. You write beautifully. I see your pain. Your beauty shines amongst it. I hope you can remember that in the hardest of times. ?

    1. Thank you so much, Sera. I am seeing the beauty, both around me, in others, and in my own BIG SELF. As my best friend says of me, there is nothing about me that is small. It is part of what people love about me. So why not try to love it myself, eh?

      I want to say that I am sorry you had tears, but that would be a lie. Tears are some of the greatest compliments any artist can receive, and I cherish you tears as the precious gifts they are.

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