Kathryn Greene-McCreight: Ashes

Meet Kathryn Greene-McCreight, author of “Ashes.”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, PhD, is a Priest Affiliate at Christ Church Episcopal, New Haven where she also serves as a spiritual director to Saint Hilda’s House. She is a mentor with Berkeley Divinity School’s Annand Program at Yale Divinity School. Kathryn’s most recent books include Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness, Revised Edition (Brazos, 2015), and I Am With You: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, 2016, (Bloomsbury, 2016). Kathryn is co-chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council of Yale-New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, and is on the board of the Elm City Affiliate of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).  She has two adult children, and lives in New Haven with her husband and goldendoodle.

Q and A with Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Q: What are your favorite hymns?

A: One of my favorites is “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” (Hymnal 1982 #657).  We sang it at our wedding 35 years ago, and I can never make it through singing it without tearing up. Among my other favorites are: “My Song is Love Unknown” (#458), especially verses 4 and 7. I also deeply identify with the lyrics of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” (#112). Two converts to Catholicism have written hymns that move me deeply: “Lead Kindly Light Amidst the Grey and Gloom” (by John Henry Newman) and “I Shall Not Want” (by Audrey Assad). 

Q: What is your favorite worship service or part of the Book of Common Prayer?

A: I am not a “cradle” Episcopalian.  Because my first experience of Episcopal worship was as an adult, I remember it distinctly. Technically speaking, I come to the Episcopal Church through the Anglican Church, more precisely, through the Church of England. 

Over the years, I have fallen in love with the BCP’s collects.  My favorite, maybe not surprisingly, is the Collect for Proper 28:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer that I find most profoundly preaches the Gospel is the Easter Vigil, and also Burial Rite I.  The Daily Office keeps me spiritually safe and sound.

Q: In your essay, “Ashes,” you reflect on some experiences you’ve had while traveling. Do you have favorite places you’ve visited? Places that have made the biggest impact on you?

Photo by Kathryn Greene-McCreight from the Camino de Santiago
Photo by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. Image referred to in “Ashes.”

A: I spent my junior year of college studying towards my major in Romance Languages and Literatures. The Fall semester I was in Madrid, and the Spring semester in Paris. During my time in Madrid I lived with Trinitarian nuns, and through them my Protestant caricature of Roman Catholicism was transformed. While I was in Paris, a friend invited me to her (ex-pat) Anglican church, and there I had my first taste of the Via Media.

Because the understanding of the sacraments in the church of my childhood was Reformed, communion was taken only quarterly. Deacons distributed cubes of Pepperidge Farm bread on silver trays lined with white linen to parishioners who sat quietly in their pews. The cup was not common: deacons served grape juice in individual cups.  

At St Michael’s, Paris, the differences were stunning. The bread that resembled a French franc more than it did my daily baguette and the heady aroma of wine in the common cup were alien to me. But the simple act of coming forward and kneeling to receive the Eucharist with that bodily posture of both penitence and thanksgiving profoundly moved me.   

Years later, after my doctoral work and ordination in the United Church of Christ (too complicated a narrative to recount here), my first priestly ministry was in an Episcopal Church that located itself in Anglican Evangelicalism. In more recent years, I have been drawn to Anglo-Catholicism. Ironically, maybe, I have found it to be more biblical than my childhood Reformed piety, even with its own appeal to sola scriptura

Q: You clearly love words and uncovering for your readers the striking word plays in the Bible. Are there words that you especially like to carry with you or to offer to others?

A: Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

A parishioner said long ago that I “gave” him this psalm.  All I did was read it to him as he was about to go in for quadruple bypass surgery (he lived many healthy years beyond that, thanks be to God).  The Psalms are powerful.

Years later, I tried to recite this verse to myself as I was in an ambulance being transferred to the hospital after complications from a stroke (I have lived many healthy years beyond that, thanks be to God).  I could recall only the first clause: “The LORD is my light…” That was enough.  The Psalms are powerful.

Q: What projects are you working on now? 

A: I am presently working at a snail’s pace on a commentary on Galatians for the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.  I think I would have finished the commentary by now had I been assigned a book from the Old Testament. The TANAK challenges and fascinates me with its vast narratives, its tangled legal codes, its eloquent poetry and wisdom, and even its humor. (Who says the Bible is not funny?). In contrast, the New Testament seems so obvious.

I am also now under contract to write a very short book on a huge topic: Forgiveness.

I participate in the Storytelling Project at Yale-New Haven Hospital for training staff, employees, and volunteers. I occasionally Skype into various academic and church audiences for lectures and presentations, and am open to invitations.

Find out more about Kathryn:

Brazos Authors’ Blog Interview

Academia.edu Personal Website

Amazon Personal Author’s page

Check out Kathryn’s books: