Sunday, September 30, 2007

Clarity and Perspective

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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On becoming...

In the group meetings, just enough space is given for you to talk and talk and talk. It's in these times that I surprise myself with what's really going on between my ears. I was talking about how now that the formal discernment process is drawing to a close I feel completely at peace with whatever decision is made, whether:yes priest or no priest. I really mean this.

In the middle of all this I said,"My main concern is not whether I become a priest or not it's whether I stay with God." The priest who leads us said, "And where is God going?" My answer, it felt sort of zen, because I wasn't really thinking and hadn't had this thought before; I said,"God is going nowhere, it's me who is flitting around all the time,always trying to become something else, exploit whatever is in front of me." Becoming is a damn trap, a rut.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Still livin'

I know I'm the only one who read this but...

Yeah, I've been busy. Who isn't? But I've been so busy that almost everything that I've been doing felt like work, the bad kind. The fall break has started and that is a wondreful thing. It's amazing, two days ago i felt disconeected, "not enough butter on too much bread" as Bilbo would say. Now, with one good night of watching pointless t.v. and a good night's rest, I feel great. The next few weeks will still be busy with my parish placement. Look for my notes on a meditation that I will deliver, it's not a sermon. Also, I've got ideas to put down on how I'm dealing with all this. Post a comment if you read this.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Reflection #3

On Sunday, September 2, I was the chalice bearer at Our Saviour for both the 8:30 and 11:00 services. I have been a Lay Eucharistic Minister for over a year at my home church, so being a LEM at Our Saviour was no big deal to me. What I was nervous about were the motions: bowing, genuflecting, kneeling, and the proper times and durations for all of the above. Normally, these concerns are minor since I am in the congregation; but this time, I was up front for all to see. To be sure, I made some errors but I just tried to roll with my mistakes and not let the mechanics of the service take over my worship of God.
As I served the sacrament, I began to feel extremely connected to the people I was serving. It would be hard for me, who is prone to exaggeration, to overstate how deeply numinous this moment of service was. I have administered the sacrament dozens of times, even to my friends and family, but I’ve never felt this kind of intimacy before. It was utterly humbling. Humbling because it seems beyond audacity that I should offer the sacrament, an outward and visible sign of God’s grace; but Jesus himself instituted the Eucharist, and here I was to help in its celebration. This seemed the perfect Christian paradox, the one offering the gift is brought low. I felt inextricably bound to the moment at hand and to the people with me. There was a strong sense of trust as well.
Considering our group conversation last week about how priests get fed spiritually, I thought that intimacy and humility might be one answer. The server this past Sunday was definitely served. There are myriad scriptural references for this idea of the first being last and honor being given to the one who serves. But the actual experience of humility as a gift has been inspiring, and I suspect that my personal view of the Eucharist has been changed forever.
With my experience of intimacy and humility, I happened upon an old prejudice that I’d like to explore. Formerly, I had considered traditional conceptions of liturgy, stodgy at best, and hopelessly cold and unfeeling at worst. I know now that those thoughts were wrong and unfounded. I’ve been working hard, through my parish placement, to eschew my automatic suspicion of the traditional. In fact, I’m beginning to see that what I once saw as “my liturgy” can, at times, feel too familiar, and not offer any real challenge. The parishioners at Our Saviour, on the other hand, while older and using archaic language may be among the most passionate in the diocese. Perhaps this added to my feeling of humility, the Eucharist is vividly real for these people and by extension for me. The gravity of what I was participating in dawned on me and I was virtually driven to silence.