Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Memoir Musings Part Three: Staying the Course

It’s Holy Week, an important one for Christians. We remember the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection and we honor all our own grief and pain and place our trust once again in the hope that we have a God who reaches into our worst darkness, even death, and raises us up body and soul together, wounds and all. In these days we all have our own memories of death and resurrection.

I had experienced myself and life in a sacramental way by instinct from childhood. My movement towards priesthood seemed obvious. All I had to do was turn myself inside out. I thought the Church would be, well, nice.

It took a record-setting eleven years for me to get ordained, the usual time being four or five years. I stayed alive in the wilderness by thinking that if only I got ordained . . . what? My father would love me as I am? My mother would acknowledge my authority as an adult? I’d be happily married? All my life my way of establishing myself in the world had been by achieving, one glittering triumph after another. Now I was stopped cold.

All one can achieve in a wilderness is survival.

God as well as my self, my direction, my values, my vocational track, came under scrutiny and into question in my wilderness.

Going to seminary whether the Church liked it or not felt deliciously defiant—also dangerous. Sometimes in a wilderness you just have to find a building, a temporary shelter, a tent even— and of course a library! Falling in love with the bible and its motley cast of characters raised my spirits. In the bible, a best seller I’d never understood, I found vocabulary for some of my own spiritual experience.

For example, when, at three under the dining room table, I’d sit and chat to my imaginary friends who never listened and to God who did listen, I felt that I mattered. I received the gift of the authority of my selfhood without any judgment or abandonment. The psalmist calls it feeling yourself to be “the apple of God’s eye.”

Personal authority and belonging came together for me under that table. This “marriage” is rare if at all in a world full of fear, but perhaps it’s a gift only God can give, a gift of love not conferred as reward or power except the power of one’s being. I feel it in my body of flesh when my spiritual body takes residence in every bone, muscle, sinew. I feel alive even when I’m tired of trying. It’s what helped me stay the course.

Recently a woman in my yoga class asked me what I did. I told her I was an Episcopal priest to which she replied “Oh, I’m done with all that religion. I was raised in the Catholic church. My mother believes every word.” I told her I had many doubts myself. She said something like “We’re all just light, Just light. None of this matters.” She patted her body. I resisted for once a little sermonette on incarnational theology, simply saying. “You are a beautiful, graceful athlete. Your body is Light, sacred all by itself.” She looked stunned.

Our conversation ended and I don’t know what she thought. But that’s the way we connect isn’t it, by sharing what matters most to us with each other? I know I’m thinking of what I call the “light of Christ” in a more expansive way because of her Light.