Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memoir Musings Part Six: Why?

Theologian and prolific author of religiospiritual (my new word, like it?) books Reinhold Niebuhr once said that clergy should have morning coffee with the New York Times in one hand and the Bible in the other. Today I actually did that by mistake. I was reading about the swine flu pandemic panic in the NYTimes and looking up a biblical reference almost simultaneously. Skimming through the gospel of Mark looking for something else my eye fell on the story of the demoniac who had so many “demons” he called himself Legion and challenged Jesus to heal him. Jesus tapped into his healing powers, cast out the guy’s “demons” (all of them) and sent them scurrying into a herd of swine grazing on the hillside. The swine, now bedeviled, ran crazed over the cliff and into the sea. So you see . . . it was Jesus’ fault that we have swine flu. If he hadn’t cast the toxins into the swine we’d be fine!!!

One of the things that confronted me regularly while I wandered around in the middle of my life went something like this: Are you crazy? Why do you want to be ordained? You won’t make much money and you are anatomically incorrect! Wisdom can clang.

The question made sense though. The law had changed to admit women to the ranks of Holy Orders. (This is a term reserved for those who are ordained clergy. I find it offensive. Are we to presume that the lay order of ministry is not holy?) But attitudes had not changed to keep up with legal requirements. I got caught in the gap, really chasm, between law and attitude. So did many other women.

The clergy club had been exclusively male for so long that women’s ways and wiles sent shock waves of Richter proportions rippling. Continuing this journey could be more difficult than getting through losses (deaths of sister and father, recalcitrant asthma and puffed cheeks from steroids, divorce, rejection by Church, cat dies too!) So why did I want this thing so fervently? Ridiculous my mother would say. And indeed it was so.

I only had one answer and it wasn’t enough to cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down for me as the song says and the biblical story relates.

Here’s why I wanted to be ordained a priest, not necessarily a rector (parish CEO type) but a priest of Word and Sacrament as the Anglican tradition defines the ministry of priesthood, the particular way priests are called to love God and people. Here it is in a nutshell: my first "ordination."

When I was three I was afraid of a glass, not just any glass. This glass was triangle-shaped, had a long stem, was filled with clear liquid and two enormous green cross eyed olives that stared out at me with menace as my father twirled the stem between his thumb and forefinger. He looked at his glass with all the affection I wanted for myself. The glass commanded all his attention and my mother’s too. The cocktail hour happened every night. I knew from a book that it was supposed to be the children’s hour, so, driven by longing and anger I snitched Ritz crackers from the cocktail tray and sought refuge under the big dining room table with the cross beams joining its legs and the cloth to the floor. There I placed the crackers on the cross beams and began to chatter-preach to my four imaginary friends and a fourth friend I called God. My friends talked back and didn’t listen, but God listened to all my woes and tales of my adventures and mysteriously communicated to me that I mattered—a lot. I was a child gathering a community and distributing Ritz crackers under a table to invisible communicants, one of them God. My nightly ritual seemed Ritz-cracker holy to me, the kind of meal I could cook and serve and love doing it.

The rest is commentary.

(If you are enjoying and following this series I hope you will comment and thanks to you who have. I plan to post most every Wednesday. I know it's Tuesday but I'm off to visit my home town, NYC , for a few days.)

I remain a Facebook resister but am tempted by tweet/twitter—such cute avian words.