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Deborah Griffin Bly
Deb wrote in 1997 about this photo: This was taken sometime in the early 1980s, back when I still had two eyes. (Really; worry not! Is joke, but true also! I did prefer two!)

Another reason I really like this picture is that I'm smoking a big long cigarette and I'm sitting on the floor between Twelfth Night dinner performances at St. George's Church on Stuyvesant: JP Morgan's church, but merged with Calvary Church, Park Avenue and Holy Communion (now The Limelight disco, as you know!), so I'm in medieval costume. Hey — this kind of dress was always made out of upholstery fabric, right? Anyway, my dress was, and the fetching little hat. What's not to like?

I look completely bored beyond belief, and somewhat depressed. Pretty faithful, I think, but actually I remember thinking ‘If I have to carry that rotting damn boar's head one more time while I'm singing at the top of my lungs, I'll just scream.’ A George Sanders moment, and way too candid.

The real reason, the best reason I like this photo: I look at this younger woman, that Deb, and want to say: ‘Look around, babe, look up! This is one of the best moments of your life. All these boys will soon be dead — Calvin, and Clinton, and Jim, and Roger, and … etc. on and on ... And Deb, you are young, and not even ugly! Mama, look sharp — kiss the ones around you while you can.’  

Hallo again to all.

Last Friday, a dear friend of ours — and of many — Deborah Griffin Bly died, too young, too soon. She was an extraordinary musician, a gifted singer, a brilliant voice teacher, and one-half of the almost legendary Miserable Offenders, with Ana Hernandez being the other. They capped their short musical life together by being asked to sing at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, their last concert. After 14 years of not singing together, they had planned to reunite next year. Alas.

As well as a great voice, Deb possessed one of the most supple minds we've ever known, which delighted in vast reading and deep erudition equally with Dennis Potter and Monty Python. Deb could be unbearably funny in her writing and singular in her use of diacritical marks to emphasize her meaning. On one memorable occasion a lengthy email — with punctuation peppered through it like scat singing by Ella Fitzgerald — actually ground a server to a halt. Although Deb experienced much pain in her life and dealt with crippling illnesses of various kinds, her indomitable spirit never gave up. She combined in some magical way the imagination of an Anne of the Green Gables, the world-weariness of a Marlene Dietrich, and all the best of what it means to be Anglican. She lived much in her 58 years, but would to God she had lived longer.

If you don't know the music of the Miserable Offenders, do hear online their Advent CD called Keepin' the Baby Awake. (If you think you know Advent and Christmas music, just wait.) Their second and last CD, 'God Help Us', also online, is breathtaking. In that music, you'll catch something of just who Deborah was.

If you do nothing else, listen to the spellbinding arrangement of 'Breathe on Me, Breath of God', for it will take your breath away. Ana has made the full track available at no cost. Deb is the soprano; Ana the alto.

Deb was also a gifted lay theologian, a side of her not nearly as well known. Her musings on what it means to 'sin against the Holy Ghost' are arresting and, to our mind, right. We're honoured to share them with you.

All my life, simply due to happy accident, I have been surrounded by people who acted as if God and matters of God were the most important thing in the world to them. When I was still a little girl, I remember long fervent conversations with other neighborhood kids concerning God and Christ and Church. One of the (Roman) Catholic kids liked trying to trip me up with difficult questions. He taunted me once: 'Hey you, you Protestant you — What's the Unforgivable Sin, huh? Betcha don't know!' Before I could even think or manufacture an answer, he screamed in triumph, 'It's cursing the Holy Spirit. There! Ha!'

The Unforgivable Sin, known to many as acedia or accidie. [acedia: from the Greek [a- + kedos] akedeia anti-care grief hate apathy boredom accidie: 13th C spelling ...] Theologians and other folks have argued and written quite a bit about this one, u-bet-u. If I were truly as lazy as I think I am I'd just regurgitate or paste in a bunch of citations from real-live books here right now, but that, to me, is the coward's way out. If I really believe something, I should be able to put it in my own words. So here goes.

This sin against the Holy Spirit for which we will be swept away at the last, unredeemed, isn't shouting 'Holy Spirit, You Big Poop!' 'Poop on you, Holy Spirit' or more purple variants of same. Not in my opinion. No, to me (and others, I fondly hope!) this unforgivable sin is better expressed as the repudiation of possibility, the denial or refusal of Joy, the rejection of Hope. To deny Meaning Itself.

To my aging mind, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is similar to what we call Original Sin. We usurp the 'role' of God, the rights — or purview  — which are God's Alone. We sin in seeking to claim for ourselves what is or can be only of God. We sin irreparably when we believe ourselves to be equal to God or to contain God in some way or to limit God to our own understandings, the limits of our own creatureliness. We sin against the immensity of God when we purport to fully understand God or act as if we do.

For example — and I am extremely stubborn about this, by the way — I can't (or won't) use Bible translations that follow the habit of referring to God by spelling out the name signified by YHWH. I am far too Jewish in my heart to allow the Unpronounceable Name, the Divine Name to be so falsely delineated. For my reading and my belief recognizes the Semitic belief that naming establishes dominion. God made us, and 'named' us. We cannot name God save by the names or ways God has given us ... we can establish no dominion over God.

For like original sin, this is hubris, that overweening and self-worshipping pride we show when we, the creatures, imagine ourselves as The Creator ... as if we could.

My heart and mind tell me that this is unforgivable, not in that God could not or will not forgive us ... No, I think it is more a case that we would not see or feel the forgiveness even if given, for we would have no way of sensing our need for it. Without hope, without humility, without the space created for mystery or new word to inhabit there is literally no room for the forgiveness to 'get in'. That arching spaciousness necessary in our hearts is missing. One cannot assuage a hunger without allowing for the possibility that there is 'food'. And, that the truest food, the food we crave, is the Body and Blood of Christ, the food both literal and spiritual that returns us to communion with God's call to us. We yearn for completion — in God.

We must leave room for the possibility that there is more than we can know. More than we can ever know. That there is always and still More.

Acedia or indifference to Grace leaves no room for God to slip in. I believe we're supposed to 'leave a window open' so that the ruach or nefesh or pneuma of God can enter and stir things up a bit should it need to. And it should ... it should! Often!

Denying the possibility of forgiveness or the hope of forgiveness makes forgiveness impossible — unnoticed even if given ... Grand possibility allows that we all shall be changed or can be changed. To be forgiven is to be profoundly changed. And it can happen in a twinkling ...

Where do we humans, weak and yet stubborn as we are, find hints of Grand Possibility ... desire for melding of the will into the Divine, yet without diminishment? We desire to be corporately individual. As in in God. We yearn for our own completeness — we yearn for GOD. For the forgiven, or the penitent creature, the former things fall away. And if we are these creatures, willing as we are, we are reduced to our essentials, our essence.

Tell the Truth: Haven't you each, in some way, heard the Voice in the night that seems to ask: "Who are you?" or 'Do you deny My Love? Do you deny My gifts to you? Can you deny your creatureliness and make yourself God? Do you deny Possibility?' Account for yourself.

And the one who asks is the one who made you and all else, all that can be known. The Graceful Possibility. The wall surrounding the little we all truly know must remain permeable; at the very least permeable to God!

And even with the 'clues' God has given us — even Scripture — even with these things we cannot extrapolate All, the All of God. Humility ... Humous ... humo[u]r ... this earth we are, this dust we were are and will be again, this humanity we share. The tools are still recognizably "ours" and are sufficient. But the Toolmaker — the maker of ALL — is greater by far even than these.

This then, if you agree, is sin, hamartia, a breaking; a falling short of the mark; to sin against the Holy Spirit is to break faith or troth with the Holy Spirit, to deny our subservience to the Spirit of Truth, to pretend our own view, our human view, or individual view or apprehension of God must be all there is. To pretend that God is knowable or definable by us — you or me, or anyone of us — no matter how inspired, how obedient, how good-hearted, or how certain we think we are.

All that I know and am knows only that God IS, and I know that my Redeemer LIVES.

Amen. Rest in peace, beloved Deborah, and may light perpetual shine upon you.

See you next week.

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9 December 2012

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