Adventures in Praying Together

A reflection by Sarah

“The poor shall eat and be satisfied and the hungry shall be filled with good things. O Master Christ our God, bless the food and drink of these, thy servants, for you are holy always, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

That’s the blessing Lindsey says over every meal we share together. Since the first time Lindsey and I joined over Skype for dinner, I’ve known that I can count on hearing this prayer at least once a day. It has become a key element in our shared spiritual life, and during certain seasons it has been the only prayer we’ve consistently engaged in together.

Concerning spirituality, Lindsey and I have discovered that we take very different approaches. Our dissimilar preferences are likely rooted in the two distinctive contexts in which we came to faith. Sometimes, I find myself surprised that we both ended up in the Christian tradition we now share, traveling to it from pathways so unalike. I grew up in a Christian family and was exposed to a variety of Christian spiritualities from childhood through college. Though I lived in an area where the Freewill, United, and Southern Baptist denominations dominate the religious landscape, I knew early on that I felt God’s presence most profoundly in liturgical worship. I’ve always believed in God, but if I had to identify a specific “this is real and I accept it” moment in my faith journey, I’d say without hesitation that it was during a Eucharistic holy hour one autumn when I was 18. I knelt in silence before the tabernacle in a rural Kentucky Catholic church and felt Christ’s presence as I never had before. I was overcome with peace and relief from the anxiety I had been attempting to ward off earlier that day, and I knew without a doubt that I was kneeling before Christ himself.

In contrast to my experience, Lindsey grew up not going to church and first became part of a faith community by playing electric bass in a praise band. Lindsey made a personal commitment to Christ during Lindsey’s freshman year of high school at a youth event, and later became active in various evangelical ministries during college. Because Lindsey came to faith within a contemporary, evangelical context–a world which was almost totally foreign to me until college–there have been times when I’ve experienced difficulty understanding Lindsey’s spirituality. One example of this is that I’ve never been especially drawn to free-formed prayer. It doesn’t come naturally, and historically I’ve had some experiences with spiritually abusive free-formed prayer. Whether my intention is to praise God, to give thanks, to ask forgiveness, or to cry out for help, I’m more apt to search the traditional prayers of the Church for something appropriate than to begin with my own words. Typically, I’ve found greater comfort in the rosary or prayer rope devotion than in approaching God informally. Lindsey, on the other hand, can articulate any diversity of prayer intentions with eloquence, yet in a conversational manner. I remember once after we first met, I asked Lindsey to pray for me regarding a health issue, and a second later Lindsey was responding to that request on the fly with an evangelical-style free-formed prayer. It took me a moment to catch up with what was happening. I recall staring blankly at Lindsey afterward and asking, “How did you do that?”

As Lindsey and I have been developing a way of life together, we’ve had many conversations about how different our processes were for coming into our shared Christian tradition. Lindsey first felt compelled to explore this tradition after attending Liturgy and observing the centrality of the Gospel in worship, making connections between this and the emphasis evangelical Christianity places on spreading the Gospel and encountering Christ in a personal way. Having been part of a liturgical tradition previously, I was attracted initially to the level of reverence people within this tradition have for the Liturgy and sacraments, and the mystical (and in many ways, organic) approach to theological issues I had previously been exposed to in more legalistic terms. Lindsey and I enjoy praying together during Liturgy, and because of the differences in our backgrounds sharing the experience and talking about it afterward becomes even more fascinating. Often, we’ll spend the drive home on Sunday discussing our responses to and observations during worship that day, and frequently the conversation will lead me to further reflection on my own experience based on what I’ve learned from Lindsey’s.

We learn a great deal from observing each other’s personal devotional practices and experimenting with ways to draw connections between our individual spiritualities. Sometimes, I see a bit of Lindsey rubbing off on me. There are times when I can sense the Holy Spirit’s presence during one of Lindsey’s powerful free-formed prayers—sometimes so much that when I need Lindsey to pray for me I ask, “Could you channel your former evangelical self for a moment?” And while I’m sure I’ll always prefer Gregorian and Byzantine chant to contemporary Christian music, thanks to the influence of Lindsey’s former praise band experience I find myself asking Lindsey to turn the car radio to our local praise and worship station occasionally. At the same time, Lindsey has begun to take great joy in asking me historical questions about the Liturgy and occasionally praying one of my favorite litanies with me when I’m feeling the need to be surrounded by the entire communion of saints. Our personal quirks and their impact on each other make for a rather unique learning experience as we approach the question of how best to cultivate a shared spiritual life.

In some seasons, we’ve made a regular practice of praying parts of the Divine Office together. In others, we have gravitated more toward praying individually, but joining together in discussion of scripture and spiritual reading materials. Still in others, the only prayer rule we’ve been able to follow jointly is Lindsey’s blessing over our evening meal. Endeavoring to pray together consistently is a challenge, and I imagine it will be for the rest of our lives together. We’re still learning how to appreciate and honor each other’s spiritualities because we believe it important to respect the different ways we came to know God individually prior to meeting each other. We see all of this as yet another adventure, and are eager to see all the places it will lead us along our journey towards Christ.

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When Life Is Hard

We love doing life together. There’s something absolutely wonderful about sharing life with a person you know will always be there. We make a point to opt in 100%, committing ourselves to prayer for one another and seeking the grace to respond in love. Opting in 100% means opting in even when life is hard. Lately, life has been very hard indeed. Between Lindsey’s recent job loss and Sarah’s encountering bumps on the journey to recovery, we have had a lot on our plate.

When life gets hard, we like to remember that being human requires dealing with hard things. Illness, financial hardship, employment uncertainty, accidents, and debt can lurk behind many doors. One never knows when one will face these adversaries. As a couple, we’ve been trying to keep up a strong appearance through some exceptionally difficult times. Our friends who know us best have seen various cracks in the facade. We’ve both seen the other navigating so much stress that it’s hard to know what to say or do. But, we try to focus on responding with grace and compassion as a default. It works well for us; yet, we’d be grateful for a few less opportunities to practice these particular skills under stress.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter which specific adversary we’re facing. The skills learned for being present for each other in one crisis transfer easily when we find ourself facing another challenging situation. We’ve had to learn to listen, to ask questions, and to acknowledge our limitations. So many painfully difficult challenges cannot be wiped out with a silver bullet. Sometimes big problems have no real solutions except to pray for God to act with every gift of the Spirit. Growing together in love means clinging to the instructions in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.”

When life is hard, we remember that “love” is a verb. To love means to pray, to sit with, to hug, to be present for, and to stretch oneself towards Christ. The bigger the problem, the more we find ourselves reaching out to God asking for a miracle. Sometimes, we have a visible miracle. Other times, we have the intangible miracle of God reminding us that we are not alone. We are so grateful when God sends us friends to encourage us. Over the past several months, we have been overwhelmed by the ways our friends have blessed us.

We certainly don’t always respond well. We’d be the first to tell you that we both get really cranky when we think we’re getting the shaft from the universe. No one likes to file 3 police reports in a month. No one likes to problem-solve complex medical concerns with extremely limited resources. No one likes to have a steady schedule of illnesses, weather-related work closures when you don’t get paid for the snow day, and traffic back-ups that prevent you from getting to where you need to be. It’s hard for us not to blame ourselves for our individual struggles. Yet, our “normal” as a couple frequently involves navigating some seriously hard things, and we have had to discern how God would have us grow towards Christ in all our circumstances.

The hard times are better because we’ve made a commitment to be there for each other. It’s not that “Lindsey is having a hard time” or “Sarah is having a hard time.” It’s that “We’re having a hard time, and we’re doing what we can to steward hope while we wait.” We’ve noticed that it’s easier to have hope when Lindsey has a full calendar of job interviews or when everything seems to be clicking in Sarah’s process. But, it’s the hard times that have shown us more about how Christ loves his Church.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Saturday Symposium: Friendships and Emotional Intimacy

Good morning, and happy weekend! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this week. We’ve certainly enjoyed our interactions with readers. This week, we’re particularly backlogged with email from the past 3 weeks, so please bear with us as we try to respond to everyone. If you’ve contacted us, we will get back to you…it may just take some time.

Recently, Sarah was asked to write a short guest post on body positivity for Nate Craddock’s blog, In the Optative. Nate published that on Monday. You can check it out here: “It’s Not Just ‘I’m Beautiful.'”

And with that, we’re ready for a new “Saturday Symposium” question…

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we published a post on how we’ve seen positive spiritual and personal growth as a result of being in relationship with one another. Lindsey also reflected on ways to cultivate a celibate vocation actively, and that post included discussion of close, emotionally intimate relationships with people other than Sarah. This week, we ask: have you ever had a close, emotionally intimate (but not necessarily romantic) relationship with another person where “friend” didn’t quite seem the most accurate label? How did this relationship teach you about meaningful relationships? What made it so meaningful?

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Terms of Engagement

A reflection by Sarah

On January 8, 2014, one evening before the opening session of the Gay Christian Network Conference, Lindsey and I visited a small, independent bookstore in Chicago. We had spent the entire day driving to the Midwest from our city, since 3 AM in fact, and were exhausted. I was still shaken from a car accident we had experienced just hours earlier, and after meeting up with our friend Alison at the last minute for dinner at a nearby Mediterranean restaurant I was ready to turn in for the evening. Still, Lindsey insisted that we take some time to stroll around the bookstore and see what hidden gems we might find. We split off into different sections for a while. Later, Lindsey met me in the adventure books where I was perusing a copy of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. We began talking about all the amusing situations we’ve found ourselves in since we first met, and I noticed a positive shift in my mood. Ultimately, we ended up in a conversation about how our life together is turning out to be the craziest adventure upon which either of us has ever embarked.

That discussion was one I’m sure I’ll never forget. It was the evening when, after months of discernment, Lindsey and I affirmed to each other that we feel called to continue living our celibate vocations together for the rest of our lives. We came to a decision that after spending the next year to reflect further, we will pursue some form of legal protection and find the most appropriate way to honor and celebrate our family. A couple pursuing marriage (however one defines that term) might consider such discussions characteristic of “engagement.” But we aren’t preparing to enter a marriage, so most people we know are baffled by our discussions of commitment and share life.

As I’ve reflected before, Lindsey and I have always struggled to find the best words to describe our relationship and our way of life. The English language and societal expectations don’t make it an easy task: there isn’t exactly a concise term for “couple committed to living a celibate vocation together that isn’t a marriage, but still allows for financial security, the ability to make health care decisions for each other, etc., etc., etc.” There’s no option for “preparing to live fully into a lifelong celibate partnership” on Facebook’s “relationship” dropdown menu. Even more significant a complicating factor is that our Christian tradition offers us little language beyond “celibacy” for describing our vocation and no guidance at all for developing a meaningful way of life in our specific circumstance.

Another layer of difficulty in determining what language to employ is that people in our lives don’t always understand why we believe it important to use certain descriptors and not others. At one extreme, we have acquaintances who urge us not even to identify as being in a relationship with each other. They encourage us to describe ourselves as “best friends” and “roommates.” In most cases, these same people become uncomfortable when we use the phrase “lifelong commitment” in relation to each other, but experience no discomfort with the idea that monastics enter lifelong commitments to each other in their communities. On the other hand, we know people who have trouble recognizing why, as an LGBT couple doing life together in a committed relationship, we wouldn’t want that referred to as a marriage. Many of these folks urge us to discuss our relationship in spousal terms, and some have indicated that our disinterest in doing so sets us in opposition to the movement for marriage equality. With minimal availability of comfortable terminology and an abundant presence of people ready to tell us how we ought to define ourselves, the quest for the best words can leave a person (or a couple) feeling very isolated. Yet despite these experiences, we are heartened by the number of people who, in diverse ways, have been unapologetically supportive of us in our vocation. We have many friends who offer us encouragement daily and show interest in helping us engage with the tough questions, regardless of what conclusions we reach and how those may or may not match with their own conclusions.

As of now, we find that the terms “family” and “team” roll most naturally off the tongue when describing ourselves to others. “Partners” also seems to fit well because this word implies shared work and a shared journey. Despite the fact that many equate the word “partnership” with “sexually active relationship,” we feel drawn to the basic meaning of this term, as we do understand our vocation to be shared responsibility for serving others and serving Christ.

It’s regrettable that people in various types of relationships aren’t always free to define those relationships such that all involved parties feel comfortable with the language used. Language around relationships is highly politicized. How one identifies one’s relationship can raise all kinds of associations for other people. In America, both religions and the government define marriage. In the eyes of a public audience, one’s willingness or unwillingness to define a particular relationship as a marriage often carries ideological connotations, regardless of whether one actually identifies with said ideologies. If any freedom to define one’s relationship and not be pigeonholed into a political category ever did exist, it seems that freedom is now gone. The terms of engagement for discussing our own life situation do not belong to us, and that will never change unless we make an active decision to take them back. With this post, consider it done. Lindsey and I are a team, a family, and a partnership, even if those words don’t have the same meanings for you as they do for us.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Unlocking the Feast within the Fast

A reflection by Lindsey

I received a phone call recently from a dear friend. She thought of me because it’s Lent and she doesn’t know anyone who loves Lent more than I do. Every time a friend mentions the Lenten season, I can’t help but smile.

My love of Lent began almost immediately as I started exploring Christianity. I was attending a Lutheran church that had regular Wednesday night soup suppers before a Lenten service series. The theme of the first Lenten series I attended was “Can you drink of this cup?” During the first week we received a small clay cup, and we received items to put into our cup during subsequent weeks. My cup is still on the bookcase in “my” room at my parents’ house. I immediately associated Lent with more communal gatherings and a focused effort to grow closer to Christ.

In college, I attended an Evangelical Protestant church that didn’t make a big deal about the liturgical calendar. Nonetheless, the community believed that God did awesome things when we took time to fast and pray. We started taking a 40 day period before Easter to pray for God to pour His blessings out on us as individuals, on our friends, and on our church. The pastoral team prepared various guides to encourage us to read through a chosen set of Scriptures and to suggest different faith experiments related to prayer and fasting.

Since that time, I’ve become aware of an ancient fasting tradition during the Lenten season that still lives in Eastern rite churches (Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and some Protestant groups seeking to discover the early Church). The tradition exhorts people to abstain from meat, dairy, eggs, fish with a backbone, wine, and olive oil during penitential seasons and twice a week outside penitential seasons. Like many fasting traditions, it suggests a certain discipline around eating with the expressed intention of helping a person grow spiritually. The ancient wisdom has 2 other teachers: prayer and almsgiving. To be clear: I don’t consider myself to be a good student of any of these teachers. Yet I find that approaching the Lenten season with joy unlocks the feast within the fast.

I’ve found myself gradually shifting towards the Eastern rite fasting disciplines because my local church communities try to keep the Eastern rite guidelines around food. It’s been important to do so gradually because I had to learn to cook first. During the ordinary times of the church year, I rely on easy-to-prepare staple foods that use roughly the same ingredients. Each fast paradoxically presents a new invitation to deepen my appreciation of food. The year I was most observant in the dietary rules was the year I decided to avoid eating out at restaurants during the Lenten period. Having to go to the grocery store regularly caused me to experiment with different combinations of new grains, various vegetables, and beans. Last year, I discovered that avocados have a similar texture to cheese in a lot of dishes. Who knew? Sarah’s higher protein needs have spurred me onward to exploring previously uncharted protein categories of lentils, shrimp, and crab. I haven’t arrived fully yet, but I do enjoy trying. In “fasting” for a season, I actually haven’t lost any foods that I love: I’ve grown in my love for diverse foods, eating a fuller array.

Taking on a certain discipline as a community has a way of bringing people together as a family. You will always have the person who think it’s impossible to eat any foods that follow the guidelines, the person scouring the labels to determine if a particular item has any “forbidden” ingredients, the family quietly inviting lost newcomers to come over for dinner, the person who reminds you that the guidelines emerged during a different place and time, people sick of eating peanut butter and/or lentils, and folks eagerly swapping recipes. Sometimes the same individual falls into multiple categories.

The communal nature of the fasting discipline creates a lot of space for conversations. Looking at my own experiences as a guide, the feast of the Lenten fast can be found in community. No matter what Christian tradition I’ve been a part of, people have made time to come together, pray, and eat during Lent. I find it amusing that churches have more meals together during “fasting” periods than they do in “ordinary” time. Care to pass the guacamole?

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.