Here's my last reflection. Who knows how it will go? Sorry for the weird font, can't fix it.
Last night I had the final of my weekly discussions with Father J B. In the past the conversations have been freewheeling and extemporaneous. This meeting however was slightly formalized. A week earlier F B gave me a question he wanted me to think about that would guide our discussion. The question was: In what ways has your experience at Our Saviour expanded, deepened, and broadened your discernment? Likewise, how has your time at Our Saviour discouraged your discernment?
My notion of liturgy has certainly been forever expanded with my time at Our Saviour. Prior to Our Saviour I had exclusively been a part of Rite 2 liturgies. Indeed, I had been antagonistic about Rite 1, or my reading of it, as an exercise in self flagellation. I now see this as utterly ignorant and an immature understanding of the tone of Rite 1. Father Bolton was surprised and pleased when I said that I’d miss Rite 1. I think Rite 1 has an understanding of our place before God that needs to be addressed at times.
My experience with Rite 1 and with some of the archaic language of the 1928 prayer book, has given me a new perspective on the old Anglican notion that “prayer shapes belief.” Before I had such an intensive and intimate encounter with Rite 1, I assumed that people who practiced Rite 1 were more conservative, theologically and socially. And those who practiced Rite 2, tended to be more liberal. I think this is still true, statistically, but not essentially. My point is that the Christian message is as liberal as it gets. Here, I am using the classical form of liberal: open, giving, for all. God’s grace is liberal, no difficult language, kneeling low, or chest beating can change that message. In fact, hearing the Good News in a manner different from the one I am accustomed to has helped me to hear it with new ears.
Being a guest was also quite instructive for me and my discernment as well. Beyond the hospitality that was extended to me, which was a grace all unto itself, was the act of being a guest. In my home church I am among kindred spirits; we’ve been worshipping together, in Vestry, in EfM, Sunday School, we met at all hours during Holy Week: we know each other. When you know someone you can joke around, push each other’s buttons for fun and learning. When you are a guest you can’t do these things. When you are a guest you spend a lot of time biting your tongue. This is a good practice. As much as I believe that we must be true to ourselves and our feelings, not to mention what we consider the Truth, I think most of what is said in the spirit of “being true to myself” is little more than a power play. Sometimes, maybe almost always, it is best to listen and shut the hell up for a minute. In this age of instant communication we all suffer from logorrhea, excessive and uncontrolled talking.
F B also wanted me to reflect on how my time at Our Saviour has discouraged my discernment. Truthfully, as I see discernment as an ongoing process, nothing can discourage it except an internal loss of self-awareness. Everything we experience, think, and feel, is grist for the discernment mill. I think what he meant was, what did I see that was hard to process or deal with. The aforementioned shutting up was difficult at times. But it was the numbers that sometimes got me down. Our Saviour has, by my count, eleven services per week. Eleven! The highest attendance at any single service I noted was 51, which included the seven person choir, and six working at the altar. F B MENTIONED THAT P, OUR SEMINARIAN, WOULD LIKELY BE PREACHING TO TWO PEOPLE AT THURSDAY’S NOONTIME MASS. MY QUESTION, WHY HAVE ALL THESE SERVICES WITH SO LITTLE ATTENDANCE? HE SAYS THAT HE GETS THAT QUESTION OFTEN, AND HIS ANSWER IS AN OLD ONE. A PRIEST USED TO BE CALLED THE PARSON, AN OLD WORD FOR PERSON. SO A PRIEST IS THE PERSON OF THE VILLAGE, AN INTERCESSOR. A PRIEST’S JOB IS TO SIMPLY BE PRESENT. HERE, F B IS BEING MODEST. TO USE LAST NIGHT AS AN EXAMPLE, HE WAS MORE THAN PRESENT. HE CAME FROM A MEETING TO MEET WITH ME, BUT FIRST HAD TO SPEAK WITH OUR SAVIOUR’S RESIDENT (LITERALLY) HOMELESS PERSON, FIND A SPACE FOR YET ANOTHER NA GROUP, TALK TO A COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PERSON FROM VIRGINIA HIGHLANDS, PRESIDE AT A HEALING SERVICE, AND FINISH OUR CONVERSATION ALL WHILE FIGHTING A COLD. BEING A PRIEST IS ABOUT BEING PRESENT, BUT IT’S ABOUT BEING PRESENT IN A LOT OF PLACES. I LIKE THIS NOTION OF BEING THE PERSON OF THE VILLAGE, AND IT IS A LOT OF WORK; BUT I DO WONDER, AS WE HAVE CONSTANTLY IN THIS PROCESS, WHO HEALS THE HEALER? (I DECIDED NOT TO INSERT MY OWN ETYMOLOGICAL UNDERSTANDING OF PARSON, WHICH COMES FROM GREEK FOR PERSONA, MASK, LIKE IN GREEK THEATER, SO A PERSON IS A FAÇADE. THE THING WE SHOW AND USE TO HIDE FROM EVERYONE AND OURSELVES. ANOTHER DISCERNMENT LESSON.)
WHAT HAS BEEN MOST IMPORTANT TO MY DISCERNMENT THAT I’LL TAKE FROM OUR SAVIOUR IS DEALING WITH THE DIFFICULTIES. THE TRUTH IS OUR SAVIOUR MIGHT BE A SINKING SHIP. THE MAJORITY OF THE CONGREGATION IS ANTAGONISTIC TOWARD THE DIOCESE AND THE BISHOP. WHEN I HEAR ABOUT PEOPLE’S PAIN WITH THE CHURCH, SUCH AS B'S POWERFUL REFLECTION FROM LAST WEEK, I DON’T WANT TO RUN AWAY, I WANT TO GET INTO IT. THIS REMINDS ME OF WHEN MY WIFE AND I HAVE AN ARGUMENT. TEMPERS FLARE AND VOICES RAISE, BUT WE WORK IT OUT. WE KNOW THAT IT WILL TURN OUT O.K. BECAUSE WE ARE COMMITTED TO EACH OTHER, BUT FOR NOW WE HAVE TO AIR ALL THIS JUNK. LIKEWISE, I PRAY FOR THE CONTINUED COMMITMENT OF THE CHURCH TO ITSELF, WHILE WE AIR ALL OUR JUNK.
THIS NOTION OF AN ARGUMENT IS ALSO A USEFUL METAPHOR FOR DISCERNMENT. I HAVE AN IDEA OF WHO I AM AND WHAT I AM CALLED TO BE. THE CHURCH IS GOING TO ARGUE WITH ME ON THAT POINT TO TEST MY ASSUMPTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS. AN ARGUMENT IS A DEBATE ABOUT THE VALIDITY OF SOMETHING. THE CHURCH AND I ARE NOT ARGUING THAT GOD IS CALLING ME, THIS WAS SETTLED AT MY BAPTISM. THE CHURCH AND I ARE SUSSING OUT WHERE THAT CALL IS.
THIS PROCESS HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TIMES OF MY LIFE. I STARTED THIS WANTING DESPERATELY TO BE A PRIEST. NOW, I AM BENIGNLY INDIFFERENT TO THE OUTCOME; WHAT A CHANGE IN JUST A FEW MONTHS! I STILL THINK I AM CALLED TO THE PRIESTHOOD, BUT I KNOW GOD WILL USE ME REGARDLESS OF THE RECOMMENDATION I RECEIVE. THIS KNOWING IS NOT SIMPLY AN INTELLECTUAL KNOWING, IT IS AN EXPERIENTIAL KNOWING, A DEEP KNOWING; GOD IS AND WILL CONTINUE TO CALL ME TO HIS SERVICE. I COUNT EACH PERSON IN THE GROUP AS MY FRIEND, EVEN P; AND I PRAY THAT GOD’S WILL BE HAPPILY DONE IN ALL OUR LIVES.