Home and Healing at Incarnation: A New Family's Story
When I asked my husband to help summarize our journey to the Anglican faith, looking for something concise and pithy, he compared it to stuffing an Easter egg with an octopus. There is no more adequate starting place than that mental picture. It is messy and maybe slightly incongruous, but many of the people and stories I have come to love over the years are that way. There will be a little Latin involved and maybe a mention of Bach, and if you are still reading this you are probably already Anglican, or should be.
My Canterbury trail begins in undergrad. I studied Literature at a classical liberal arts Bible College. I was drawn more to Plato and Dante than Driscoll. Sometimes I skipped Sunday church and read the Aeneid or hiked the Appalachian Trail. Those first delicious tastes of the good and beautiful contrasted with the dryness of theology class. Unlike many schoolmates, my parents had not pushed me to Bible College; in fact, they were practical and did not see it translating to success. What to do with this conflict was entirely my own conundrum. As we neared graduation, I saw classmates converting right and left to the Catholic and Anglican churches. On this side of the journey I firmly believe a steady diet of the good, true, and beautiful will lead to the high church, but, in the folly of youth, I was all for reinventing the wheel.
I married my college sweetheart and as we began our life together we dabbled in the Emergent church; now a mostly forgotten blip in church history. Our brief foray into the utter subjectivity of that new movement frightened us. Even though we did not like the formulaic two-generic-praise-choruses-twenty-minute-Reformed-lecture that routinely passed for church before, it sobered us to go back. We spent the next decade in the land of the non-denominational church of the South, trying not to be flaky millennials, and craving a service that was not a construct of our geographical location. Sometimes we would sing an old hymn in A minor and my heart would thrill for a moment. But after years of moves, children, and different denominations under the orthodox Protestant umbrella, we bottomed out. However, we did not stagnant for lack of trying. My husband was a deacon, we were Awana leaders, we spearheaded parachurch ministries, I was a sunday school director, and we tried to become international missionaries - so we earned our stripes. This burnout came after years of falling and getting back up, many crushed idealisms, and being on the losing end of the papal infallibility of our low church leadership. We stopped going.
We wanted to infuse our home with liturgical rhythms and be a part of a church outside our national identity, but we had not prepared ourselves for the healing power of the Eucharist. What had we been doing before this and calling it church?
We never intended on not going to church in the long haul. I was pregnant with our fourth child and our four year old son was asthmatic and then our new baby was colicky and so we sat out for sanity. And we prayed. And we rested. Tempted toward the vice of cynicism we sought refreshment for our souls. We were purposeful about being still in nature. We found trees to hug, we listened to Toccata and Fugue in D minor during rainstorms, we took time to watch dew dry off the long grass of a field, we found and hatched butterfly chrysalises, and searched for ordinary beauty in front of us. In this stillness we began to wonder. It was not magic, but having been grounded in Scripture, this deep marveling lead us seamlessly to sacramentalism. We felt an Emmaus like revelatory experience from reading Ancient Future Worship. We began simple home liturgies, and not only the commercialized ones like Advent, but less posh ones like Lent and Pentecost. And this time, instead of remaking the wheel, we found a perfectly good wheel already here to use.
This is when we found Church of the Incarnation. We wanted to infuse our home with liturgical rhythms and be a part of a church outside our national identity, but we had not prepared ourselves for the healing power of the Eucharist. What had we been doing before this and calling it church? After receiving Eucharist one Sunday, my husband said he felt figuratively like he should get his money back for all church prior to this moment. There is a Latin phrase that became meaningful; Nascantur in Admiratione, translated, “Let them be born in wonder.” I watched my children take in the words of the ancient prayers like water on the thirsty ground while we, simultaneously, felt the weight of cynicism and pain lighten. This was a difficult journey, and we had gone the long way around, but the unique timing allowed us to be thankful to be born in wonder together.
This was our first Lent and Eastertide as practicing Anglicans. As the world shut down because of the pandemic and services went online, the disappointment at being apart for this special season was palpable on social media. While we were sad to miss the physical body and Eucharist, we went on quietly living our liturgical life at home. We opened the prayer book every morning, listened to the dirges of lent and felt the weight of the prayers calling us to repentance. We were together in time and out of time with the saints, and felt the reality and comfort that the Book of Common Prayer was made for conflict. As frustration mounted during Holy Week we were somber, but not bothered. On Holy Saturday as we gathered in the darkness of our living room after sundown, having turned out every light and prepared an impromptu candle, I felt only excitement and hope. As we read “All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame” and lit our homemade Paschal candle the four little faces in front of me transformed in the magic of that candle lighting the darkness. These same words, said this night in Hong Kong and Ugandan and Rome, had comforted the Saints throughout church history and during famine, plague, and certain death. These prayers draw us into a place outside of time where we are shielded in our joy at Christ’s resurrection. If I could have lit a bonfire in our yard that night I would have, but I will settle for a bonfire in the heart of my children.
We landed at Church of the Incarnation as wounded creatures. We are still wounded, but we are taking our beauty pills now. We are excited to be part of an Anglican Church plant resting in the knowledge that we are collectively bigger than the moment. (And it’s a big moment.) It has unique challenges, and as a lover of the aesthetic I daydream about meeting in stone churches with stained glass windows. But there is joy in embracing being formed by what is in front of us. If you live in College Station, or are ever passing through, come visit us. We meet in a dark gymnasium at an odd time of day and sounds of crying babies reverberates and interrupts easily, but as the air vents blow musty and irregular you will hear the sounds of the ancient prayers echoing and it is easy to imagine you are in a catacomb. And we sit and wonder together.