Sunday, October 6, 2013

How Dear To Me Is Your Dwelling

Meridian Hill Park; October 5, 2013

I've talked about my faith here and there on this blog (most specifically in my "I Believe" post from this past spring) but, if you're new here, you might be a little confused.  That's okay; my association with religion does seem contradictory.  I joke that I'm a Jewpiscopalian because, although I became a Bat Mitzvah at 13 and still identify as a Jew, I concurrently grew up in the Anglican tradition* and have a sincere affinity for liberal Protestant ideologies.

In my survey, a few of you asked if I could blog more about my degree - I got my MA in Medieval Studies, focusing on the history of Christianity, and I've got a couple of posts planned over the coming weeks where I'll get deliciously nerdy on you.  (If you haven't taken the survey yet, it's still open and I'd be grateful for any input you might have!)  In short, though, here's how I always start stories about how I came to this specialization: Judaism is subjective to me because I believe (more or less) in the tenets of the religion, but I approach Christianity objectively because my interest is primarily academic rather than doctrinal.

That's true.  It is.  But it simplifies how I feel about each religion; it's taken me years to work through my deep attachment to both faiths and to not feel like I was betraying one or the other at different times.  One of the hardest things for me to admit even to myself is that I don't automatically feel at home in synagogues.  You'd think I would, of course, because the ritual similarities between most of the Reform and Conservative temples I've visited since childhood mean that I usually understand what's going on, but it doesn't always happen.  In fact, it doesn't often happen - I am, subconsciously, very picky about the synagogues and/or Jewish traditions in which I feel comfortable.  However, I can walk into almost any Episcopalian church and instantly feel a sense of belonging.  (I haven't been to that many different denominations of churches besides Catholic ones in Europe and I've rarely participated in services of other Protestant sects, so I can't say definitively what effect they have on me.)  There's something about the faith and the space that just effortlessly draws me into the community.

Last week, I spent an afternoon at Washington National Cathedral to celebrate the Director of Music, my former choirmaster, and along with several fellow alumni of the boys' and girls' choirs I was privileged to join the current choristers in singing Evensong.  It was a homecoming, as going back to the Cathedral always is - when I slid into the stalls in the Great Choir, I felt enveloped by such a sense of security as if, no matter what else was going on, I was in a place of constancy and hope and love.  The music** was wonderful, of course, and the psalm of the day was especially appropriate given my state of mind:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. 

The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
they will always be praising you.

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way. 

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water. 

They will climb from height to height,
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion. 

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob. 

Behold our defender, O God;
and look upon the face of your Anointed. 

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked. 

For the LORD God is both sun and shield;
he will give grace and glory;

No good thing will the LORD withhold from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, happy are they who put their trust in you!

Back in March, I wrote on this blog that "I feel sometimes like I’m alone in not having a distinct community of people who believe the same things I do."  But I've come to think that there's more to community than agreeing on every point of doctrine, and today, when Charlie and I go back to the Cathedral to participate in the Blessing of the Animals for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I'm looking forward to rejoining one of my favorites.

Happy Sunday, dear readers, and I hope you feel at home wherever you are today!

Washington National Cathedral; September, 2013

*I use the terms "Anglican" and "Episcopalian" interchangably here; there are, many would argue, deep-seated theological differences between the them but I like this simple historical explanation of why there are two words and two churches.

** For those who are interested, here's what we sang with links to lovely recordings:
Psalm 84; chant: C. Hubert H. Parry
Service in A, Charles Stanford (Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis)
I Was Glad, C. Hubert H. Parry
 photo 866de425-8336-4c63-9efd-1c4dd8bf0e62_zpsafe0d56b.jpg


  1. This is a beautiful post. I absolutely love that psalm--especially this: "For the Lord God is both sun and shield." That's such a wonderful, true image.

    I know a little bit about how you feel. This isn't exactly the same, but I grew up Protestant and always felt comfortable in the Methodist churches we went to. But in college I started going to Mass, and my husband is Catholic, and I found myself seeking out Catholic churches when I was on my own in NYC after college. I started to feel so at home in those services, and still do. So I consider myself sort of "half and half" at this point. To me, it's most important that I identify as a Christian, and parts of my faith stem from my Protestant upbringing, but so much of Catholicism resonates with me too and has become a big part of who I am. It's sometimes a struggle feeling like I have to pick one, or feeling like I don't fully belong to either denomination. Someday, I may become fully Catholic, but for now, I think it's okay to feel attached to both. And same for you--I know Judaism and Christianity have more differences than Protestants and Catholics do, but I personally think faith in God and loyalty to Him are more important than specific doctrine.

  2. You write so succinctly and beautifully on such a hard topic. I went k-8 to a Catholic school with Franciscan order nuns and priests and even though through the years my views have changed and grown I still feel that homecoming in a Catholic mass. Now in Sweden I have attended various rites in the Church of Sweden which is similar in mass form but with the language difference I do not find myself connecting in the same way.

  3. It is! The Psalms are amongst the most beautiful parts of scripture I think :)

    I have to admit I don't know much about modern Catholicism (other than pop culture stuff) because my studies of religion branched off towards Protestantism with the Reformation! but if you want to talk about medieval Catholic doctrine, I'm your girl :P

  4. I didn't know that Sweden had a national church! What is it?

  5. Yes, you can even choose to have a very small percentage taken from your salary each year automatically that is put towards the church and ensures they assist with your funeral. We were married under the Church of Sweden in California and so we have a regular California marriage certificate and a Church of Sweden one too!
    The church itself is under the umbrella of Lutheranism, they are very liberal in comparison to many others and had the first openly lesbian bishop!

  6. Georgia ChristakisOctober 6, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    I love the idea of a blessing of the animals service. It's not something we do regularly in the Orthodox church. I am glad you feel there is a Godly place where you can feel a peace and a sense of belonging; I'd venture to say a lot of people never get that :)

  7. I go to a Baptist church here in Oklahoma. It's a great church I love attending that definitely feels like home :) I'm interested to read your nerdy posts!

  8. I love how you write about faith here on Betsy Transatlantically. That sense of community is such a special thing to have, and I think it just goes to show that when it comes to religion, you can be called to different aspects of different sects/religions/whatever term is most appropriate here. And come on, the fact that the WNC has a Blessing of the Animals is just awesome. St. Francis for the win!

  9. wait, the tithe SPECIFICALLY goes towards paying for your funeral? that's interesting. I don't think I've ever heard of that...

  10. haha it was a zoo - almost literally! but it was actually really moving when the priest asperged Charlie, though he wasn't a huge fan of the water :P

  11. Georgia ChristakisOctober 6, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    Had to google asperge, lol! what was the weirdest creature you saw come to get blessed?

  12. So interesting. I think that as I've gotten older I've found for me, faith has been much more of a stronghold than religion. I grew up Catholic, but have grown weary of many of the Catholic churches teachings in terms of our daily lives and believes and I've found that though I don't assimilate myself with any particular "church" now, my faith is stronger than it's ever been.

  13. there was a parrot on a woman's shoulder!

  14. oh thank you! and YES St. Francis was pretty awesome - the new pope chose his name well, I think :)

  15. YES. I think we often take refuge in religion and leave it there when we should also find strength in faith - does that make sense? they don't have to line up perfectly, but it's cause for celebration when they overlap.

  16. I love that your emphasis is on the community of faith. I don't feel like I align with any particular religion and I don't particularly care for someone telling me HOW to believe, but I've attended a huge number of religious events from a dozen different religions all over the world, and the sense of faith, spirituality, and community at the best events were what made them truly special and moving.

  17. Yeah like you get this little part taken out of your yearly income and then when you pass away your church fees for the funeral and plot I believe it is is taken care of, you can opt out of it but my husband does it .

  18. An MA in Medieval Studies? That must have been so fascinating!

  19. Although I don't consider myself religious, I find all things religion extremely fascinating! I took an intro to religion course in college and loved it. I only wish I took more classes on the subject!

  20. Totally... very well said.

  21. * It's funny because my father was an Episcopal Reverend and in my house he always referred to himself and us as Episcopal, but my Irish Catholic mother would always refer to us (my father, brother and I), as Anglican so for me, they were always the same. I'm gong to pop on over to the link with the historical explanation and see which of them I'd agree with :)

  22. I love the fluidity and open mindedness you approach faith with. So many people see it as a black or white topic but I think it's somewhat unrealistic to agree with EVERYTHING a singular faith or religion has to say. As people, we are variable and I think our faith can be too!

  23. YES! more on that in the coming weeks, if I can edit ALL OF THE THOUGHTS down to reasonable posts :)

  24. I think now that the church is picking sides on LGBT inclusion, Anglican/Episcopalian is coming to mean different things... but the video is really clear on the history of the two names!

  25. oh thank you! and I totally agree. even within church confines, I bet there are people with varying degrees of belief in the different tenets!


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