Monday, July 01, 2002

Simplicity. Singleness. Submission.

Twenty-five years ago today, having finally turned 21 years old, I went to church to pray before the Eucharist; I made a prostration, then signed my full name, Karen Marie Agnes Jochebed Knapp, to a lifelong covenant commitment. For the rest of my days, I would be only the Lord's, living simply and singly and in obedient submission. And that is how it has been for the past 25 years.

Simplicity, singleness, and submission is the strong medicine and the firm witness against the unholy trinity of our age: money, sex, and power. Only the Real Trinity --- Father, Son, Holy Spirit --- can guard and protect, liberate and gift; the unholy trio can only enslave and take away and open one to predation.

To live in simplicity reduces money from false god to only the societal convenience and exchange symbol it truly is. The less that one owns, the less the temptation to guard it by force. As St. Francis said in one of his disagreements with the church politicians, "If we had property, we would then need an army to keep it." Of course, there are some things we need if we are to survive in this world. We need clothing, and food, and shelter. Milwaukee winters can be fatal without heating fuel; my disabled body refuses to work without the oxygen supply and the medications. Yet to let go of everything that is not actually need, and if necessary even that, knowing that, whatever comes, the Lord God will provide (and cash money will not), is the witness of simplicity.

To live in singleness is the acknowledgement that I have only one Love, and that nothing and no one must come between us. My whole being, body and heart and soul, belongs to no one except my Beloved, who is faithful to his covenants. This then frees me to love and serve all of my sisters and brothers, since no one of them monopolizes me or holds my conscience. Only my Lord and Beloved has me, so I am free all the way deep down; this is the witness of chaste singleness.

To live in submission means I cannot reach for power, that poisonous food that feeds pride. Others have legitimate authority over me: my bishop and my pastor, my employer and my supervisor when I was still working, my physician and my physical therapist, the moral law, the civil law insofar as it isn't sinful. I obey to the best of my ability, with a willing heart. Instead of grasping for power, I must embrace honesty and truthfulness, which nurture humility and peace. I must openly admit my failings. I can make no excuses. I cannot defend myself, even justly, by accusing anybody else of anything; I can only accuse myself. The very first signs that original sin had happened were hiding from God, then blaming someone else, and we who are baptized are to have none of that! I willingly and joyfully leave the "higher profile" "more important" places in life to others, being content in the place I have been placed, just as in ordinary life I must yield the right of way to all who come behind me in the aisle, since (pretty much by definition) they are all faster than me. To give up power and pride and exchange it for truthfulness and humility is the witness of submission.

Twenty-five years ago, on my twenty-first birthday, I really didn't have much of a clue about what was proper or canonically legal --- I only knew that the way of life I had been living since I was 19 and renamed (I wrote about this a few weeks ago) had to be mine forever. So I wrote three paragraphs on a sheet of paper, prayed, worshipped, and then signed at the bottom of the page, in the way of the covenant commitment, which I did know about from the charismatic renewal. A few years later, when I was in graduate school, I discovered that the Church had laws about such things that I wasn't in conformity with, and guiltily talked with my pastor. He told me not to worry, that there would be no problem as long as I was going to stay faithful and not need released, and as long as I never wore a costume. And so I have lived, and so I will continue, with the help of God.
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