Leaving My Father’s House

image (An excerpt from Chapter One of my book project. I’m reminded of this photo again as this day of Lent and our nation’s primary elections collide)

“Why don’t you move into the Community?” Pastor says. Bring your worldly goods and come live with us. I think it’s God calling me and it is all that I need. I’ll go. Destined to be called by God I do not look back. I will prove my worth.

I pack up my old steamer trunk, a gift from our neighbor’s that has followed me in all of my moves. I answer the call. “I worry about her bleeding,” is likely my parent’s thought as they watch me take off in a truck of one of the community members.

I move my things into the attic of one of the community’s large households, along with six other single women, my little bed directly under one of the attic dormers. It is my way into the religious life, my taking an oath, leaving one father’s house for the Father. Ever since childhood I knew this desire, like some of the envy I felt for my neighbors when I was young as they went off to their Catholic school in their uniforms, and I went off to my Protestant Christian school always questioning what I was wearing and how I would fit in.

With resolve I leave my father’s house and enter my “monastery.” I believe that I’m living the path of “Asher Lev” of Chaim Potok’s novel, destined to leave the Dutch Separatist religion of my fathers, choosing to sacrifice myself and be married to this church community.

It’s where your father and I meet, little baby, in that first household, Vineyard House. He is a bushy-haired, bearded, skinny college student, the son of missionaries to Korea. Living together in households with seventeen, fifteen other people, sharing our money, our time, and our selves.

“I wonder if I will marry this woman,” the scruffy, skinny, and beautiful man who opens the door for me to Vineyard House, later will tell me is his first thought upon seeing me. Of course, marriage is far from our life together in intentional community. The life of the community is our first commitment, household meetings, retreats, working and adding our earnings to the common purse, sacrifice of self, “bleed” I did. I bled my life and soul, like the crucifixes of the Catholic neighbor’s that transfixed me. Hanging up there, blood running down his face and hands and legs. I made some attempts at escape from the community that I made; friendships with co-workers at The Bridge, women I loved, Judy, Marilyn, women who had nothing to do with church, glimpses of another world. But I could not betray the community where I was called, could not walk the tightrope between independence and belonging, between church and outside the church.

“You can do that kind of work here,” was the community pastor’s response when I asked for his recommendation for a position with The Mennonite Volunteer Service. So again I stayed.

Romantic relationships were frowned upon. Communal life was our highest calling. Yet, they happened–there would be no living together so closely without it. Tim, the artist who first met me at the door of Vineyard House, developed an eye for me and me for him. With the blessing of our communal compatriots, I left with Tim and his parents–then in The States on a year furlough–got into a Rent-a-Wreck and made a trip to Atlanta, Merrillville College, Tennessee where Tim’s sister was going, Washington D.C., and a few other stops along the way. We opened the door to a romantic relationship and cemented it further on that trip. In the chaos and the joy of living together, sharing our lives, quite a few marriages grew out of the community. Our wedding was the first time my parents or any of my family came to the community for a worship service.

Married, I left that household for a new one. We chose our new family name Lowly, from our former family names; Grubbs of the earth—worms, and Rubingh, from rube—the peasant person. We traveled and lived in Korea for a year, where Tim grew up, teaching English, living next to Tim’s parents. We visited orphanages there. “Maybe we will adopt a child,” we told each other. But you were born in us little baby, wanting to be a third, Lowly.

We talked about names for you as we lay in bed, before going to sleep. We began dreaming for you. “O.K., what about Jim, or the Dutch version, Jacobus,” says Tim. “For our good friend Jim.”

“What about Temma,” for a girl. We remember the name we love from the tombstone in Brevard, North Carolina when we visited family on our trip South with your Dad’s parents. Walking around the small graveyard beside the church we found her name, Temma, your Grand-mom Grubbs grandmother’s name. It’s a beautiful name that we tuck away in our memory, reserving for a day when we will want to take it out, remember, a name now for you if you are a girl.

“Day,” that will be her middle name, we agree. I want to give you some of the spirit of my great heroine, Dorothy Day. I want Day’s strength like I want Delilah’s. Dorothy chose the church over her lover and a bohemian life on the beach. She wanted her baby baptized in the church, wanted to throw in her entire lot with the church to make it something better, to respond to the poor. I read each of Dorothy’s books, wanting to breathe in her strength, her resistance, her prophetic stance in the church. I hang her picture wherever I work, the small black-and-white newsprint photo, cut out from “The Catholic Worker” newspaper. In the photo she is seated in what looks like a kitchen chair looking up through her glasses at the crowd, facing police officers fully armed. A mix of resolve and openness on her face, Dorothy sits in the midst of a protest of the nuclear arms build-up, refusing to find shelter during a training for a nuclear blast. Instead, she sits in the kitchen chair in the middle of the street. Police are ready to make arrests. My heroine, journalist, writer, activist, turned to God and the Mother Church and remained there to practice her rebellion, her personalism.

I went with you, little baby, still in the womb, to Peace Pentecost at Sojourner’s Community in Washington D.C. A small bus load of people from our community traveled to our sister community in D.C. to participate in the community gathering for peace. There was an act of civil disobedience planned to call attention to the futility of the nuclear arms build-up of the Cold War.

Can you drink this cup?” asks Henri Nouwen, the preacher at one of the worship services for the event. Henri is there from his L’Arche Community in Toronto, along with one of his fellow community members. He lifts up the goblet as the priest in the Mass in the large room where the hundreds have gathered. A large banner with the words from the Old Testament prophet Amos “Let justice Roll Down Like Mighty Waters” hangs on the stage behind him as he repeats the question of Jesus to the disciples, “Do you love me?” “Can you drink this cup?”

“Yes, I’m ready,” I think to myself. I’m ready to drink the cup. I’m ready to do civil disobedience with the rest of the gathered peacemakers, in the halls of Washington D.C. I want to follow the footsteps of Dorothy Day. I want to be a Civil Rights activist, protesting, unionizing, community organizing along with Jim Wallis and the other Sojourners. I want to be arrested. I want the nuclear arms build-up to stop. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night with my heart pounding at the fear of the mushroom cloud spreading the invisible killing light into my heart and my lungs. In grade school I was instructed to run to my classmate’s house when the civil defense alarm went off. Her home is close to the school. So I follow the instructions as I’m taught. With six other classmates, all assigned to run to this home. But Dorothy Day, she stays seated in the street of New York City, refusing to play the government’s defense game.

Others in our group advise me not to risk being arrested. “For the sake of the baby,” they say. I’m distraught inside. I want to make the sacrifice, drink the cup, yet I also want to be responsible for you, sacrifice my own desire to be in the spotlight of civil disobedience for the sake of my baby.

I follow in the footsteps of my heroine, Dorothy Day, and sit out the protest, she out of submission to her mother church, me out of the same. I’m aware as I sit on a bench outside of The National Cathedral that I’m following Day as I pray, “God show me what I should do, how to live out my convictions.”
Like lowly birds of the air, “toiling not, neither spinning, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them,” we built our nest upon returning from Korea, rejoining Christ’s Community, living on the first floor of the home of another family of the community who lived on the second. We built it from scraps; an old grey couch from the Thrift Store in two sections making a half-moon shape; an old silver-chromed, red-topped kitchen table from Mom and Dad’s house; up-ended apple crates for end tables; planks of wood on concrete blocks for bookshelves; Tim’s simply constructed frame holding our mattress; an old white dresser from my brother Doug’s room that will become your diaper-changing table and one of it’s drawers your crib. All of it pieced together, like birds gathering rejected bits blowing in the wind, except for the paintings on the walls. These are your Dad’s. Child-like paintings, thick and crusted with paint, “Mom and Dad Sing for the Lamb,” and “The Annunciation.”

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