Sometimes the Holy Spirit is so direct in its message that even I catch on. This past week had an undeniable theme of perspective on my discernment, getting it and holding it. Three events offered me the most potent experiences of gaining perspective: my fall break starting, my assignment of the week at Our Saviour, and a family gathering.
I am fortunate enough to work at a school with a year round schedule. Year round simply means that we work on a quarter system, so we are on for nine weeks and off for three, with a seven week summer. That comes out to sixteen weeks of vacation a year, I only mention this because, once in group, we were asked what we would be giving up if we became priests, I’d be giving up a lot of time off. Also, at my school, I am the sole teacher for twenty-three students from age 9-12. I teach every subject and assist with some electives such as music and French. The students at my school run the gamut of abilities and behaviors. It is a full time job, very intense, no breaks during the day, and I love it…most of the time.
When the nine week quarter is over, my well has run dry; especially so this time with the added business of my parish placement and the reflection groups. So it was this week, on Friday, that I just sat at the dinner table and reveled in my genius daughter’s creative use of the English language, and my son’s ability to eat everything put in front of him. I felt like a drained battery being charged. I felt in that moment that God was telling me to “Sit and enjoy what is around you, taste and see the Glory of the Lord.” Glory be to God. My family is my first and last ministry. Perspective.
Singing in the choir at Our Saviour this week also allowed me to see my discernment from a different perspective, this time literally. Singing in the choir was at times hectic, shuffling papers, trying to keep up. But it was also profound: leading the chants and hymns gave me some special insight into the importance of music in liturgy. But it was the seating arrangement that made me literally look at the service of the Word and Sacraments in a new way. The choir was truly behind the scenes. The service was not directed at us, we were the service, at least part of it.
Being a transient member of the choir, with its intensive rehearsals, allowed me reflect on the discernment process. This process is a true discernment for me. It’s hard work, not just the meetings and responsibilities, but the questions, the feedback, the psychic muckraking that is all too illuminating. It’s exhausting. The amount of work is akin to how much the choir rehearses for a given mass, which might have upwards of 30 people to hear it. My point is that discernment, like singing in the choir for the members, is a kind of ministry. Maybe ministry is too strong a word, for something that is so self-directed, but being radically honest with yourself and God seems, these days, to be a heroic act. Whether I get a yes or no is now no longer my greatest concern. However, making sure I continue my discernment after the discernment process is now my chief aim.
Finally, I gained a great deal of perspective on how my family sees my “church stuff.” Now, first I would like to say that I am talking about my extended family, not my parents. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with my parents lately about my faith, the Episcopal Church, tradition, and the priesthood.
I had the opportunity to discuss discernment at a family gathering to welcome the newest member to our clan, Ellie. She was just adopted by my cousin and her husband. We all got together at my parent’s house, there were 26 of us. Many cousins, aunts, and uncles asked polite questions about, “When I would be in the ministry.” My smart ass Episcopal answer was, “I’m already in the ministry and so are you.” This actually allowed me to explain the Episcopal belief of the four orders of ministry. I didn’t give them the catechism, but I wanted them to know that priests are one type of minister.
I got several people’s attention when I was asked why I need the Church’s authority on my decision. I said that the Church is the Body of Christ and we Episcopalians take that very seriously. The Church, of which I am a part, needs priests, I think I am called to that role, but it is my community’s decision, not mine. I think this ruffled some of the Baptist feathers. Having someone other than God determine your ministry? Surprisingly, this is an unusual concept to them, seeing how Baptists are staunchly congregational, that a community decision would be so hard to bear.
Trying to convey the idea of a process of discernment was sometimes difficult, especially to people who fundamentally see Christianity as a one time decision. This brings up a memory of one of my college professors, who, when asked if he was saved, he answered, “Sometimes.” I might answer, “Everyday.” Discernment, like Christianity, is a relationship that is renewed each day. In discernment, it is a relationship with ourselves and truth so that we may clearly hear God’s voice. As I talked with my family, I felt a great deal of support for my endeavor, they didn’t understand it all, but they do support me.
Discernment is a lens that we look through at ourselves and our life. At times it feels like Alice Through the Looking Glass: all is in question, nothing is what it seems, and everything is pregnant with meaning. In my spiritual autobiography I recounted the story of my baptism. I was eleven and had a true Baptist style full immersion baptism. During the baptism I lost my footing, capsized, water shot up my nose, and I gasped for breath upon surfacing, the echo of which carried through the large church. Not what I had expected. It’s been a similar experience with my discernment; it’s a topsy turvy ride. I think this is proof that God is at work through all this, God is in the shaking up business, I find this oddly, yet infinitely comforting.