In the last few weeks I encountered this word enough times that it finally stopped me and demanded I look more deeply into my own understanding of it.

My first glimpse came while watching a superlative production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by the Edge Theatre, a vibrant company in the western suburbs of Denver.

Chief Bromden is, supposedly, catatonic. However, he learned to survive by listening and watching, but not reacting. He is the progeny of a white woman and a Native American of the Pacific Northwest. When his mother convinced his father to sell the tribe’s land to the government for a hydroelectric dam, Bromden, then a young boy, spiraled into a life of feeling small and insignificant even though he would grow to almost seven feet. Without his tribal identity and the effect of a heinous war on his father, he ends up in an Oregon mental institution.  Overcoming the dehumanization of his childhood as well as his deplorable treatment at the hands of the staff, he eventually breaks out of the institution to find his tribe.

On the following Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a poetry reading at my church, the Church of the Holy Family, an Ecumenical Catholic Communion congregation. It was the first time I read my poetry in front of a crowd other than my writing group. Everyone was warm and genuine, freely reading words from their favorite poets and not afraid to share their own writing. They were generous with their appreciation. Following the reading, one of the poets beamed, “It’s like finding your tribe.”

This past week I had the honor to attend a discourse between an Episcopal priest, a Jewish Rabbi, and the Imam from our local mosque at the Colorado Muslim Society regarding how each group defines their roles in service to others. During the discussion the Rabbi was asked by one of the audience members if those of the Jewish faith proselytize. The Rabbi spoke of the intertwining of his faith and race and service. He warmly countered that anyone is welcome to join explaining that his faith tradition and work must be experienced and understood before making a commitment to the tribe.

I believe tribe is about belonging.

We long to be accepted and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We look to fit our piece into the puzzle.

We search to find a place where we can make a difference.

We hope to discover a home where we love and are loved without judgment.

We must understand that we are all a part of the same tribe. We walk with one another on this Earth, no matter how we draw the picture or what definitions we apply.  We cannot survive without one another. Creator, human, beast, or bee.

We are one.

Cheif Bromden played by Sam Gilstrap in"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by the Edge Theatre, Lakewood, Colorado

Cheif Bromden played by Sam Gilstrap in”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by the Edge Theatre, Lakewood, Colorado

Our Father

Our Father, our Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…

These are not the traditional words of the cornerstone prayer I learned as a child.

God.  Our Father.

This image has lived in my life since I was born. All through my childhood God our Father was my primary image of God. All through my adulthood it has been a constant.

God. Our Mother.

Oh, I grew up in the sixties and seventies with dear friends who walked a different spiritual path than I. Their word for their transcendent being was, and still is, goddess.

When I heard their naming, it always brought to mind Greek myths with women dressed in short white tunics trimmed in gold. Or faerie-like creatures with long flowing hair running through the forests in wispy gowns in shades of greens and blues and purples. (I was a theatre costume designer for many years.)

Occasionally, Mother would be used. But here the image that would pop into my head was that of Mary in her lovely blue and white gown, a crown of stars around her head, and a sweet smile on her face.

Our Father, our Mother, who art in heaven…

This past Mother’s Day our priest and pastor, Fr. Scott Jenkins, warned us not to get worried. It wasn’t going to change permanently. But it was Mother’s day. And so, after a simple prompting, we began the prayer.

Our Father, our Mother, who art in heaven…

A floodgate opened as I listened to those words.

How could I feel so alienated and disrespected by the Roman Catholic Church not accepting me, a female, as an equal with men, when my only image of God is that of God the Father?

How could I not see that if I, a woman, am truly made in the image and likeness of God, doesn’t God need to be the feminine, too?

I stepped away from the Roman Catholic Church almost a year ago and have never looked back from where I came. I am now a member of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion. Our priests marry; are accepted if they are divorced; are accepted if they are gay; and can be female. Imagine that. Our priests can be human.

I do know that I was never a “good” Roman Catholic. There were too many sticking points for me to really consider myself anything other than a fraud. However, in high school the Jesuits and Sisters of Loretto were my teachers, post Vatican II. I developed an independent spirituality based in social justice. But I was too weak and frightened to really do anything about it, until now.

Our Father, our Mother, who art in heaven…

Right now I am a listener. I need time to process what I am hearing. (This is a lesson I also recently learned after fifty-seven years of walking this earth.) I now take time to observe how my spirit responds to what is being said when I am at mass or on retreat, even in daily life. I need to discover what I am thinking, what I am seeing. What I really believe.

I long for radical change. I long for a faith and a church that are based in true acceptance and understanding. I want to see the inclusive language grow in the ECC, or at least, at the Church of the Holy Family.

I don’t mind discomfort as long as the road leads to a true ecumenical outcome. I want my thinking to be challenged. I want to grow. I want to be part of the spirit that welcomes everyone and lets us know we are important and loved for who we are.

Our Father, our Mother, who art in heaven…