Journey

This is about my spiritual journey and trying to find what God is calling me to next.

Postulant to an Unknown Tradition

It is a rainy Sunday morning. One of the cats has crawled into my lap and the dog sleeps on the couch next to me. It is supposed to rain hard here today. I check my messages on Facebook and plan my day: church, followed by choir and a meeting, and then home to study. Yet I know I must be gentle with myself today. Five years ago today was hurricane Sandy and the death of my mother.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter had a recital. She wore a necklace from my mother, and my mother would have been very happy. My mother loved to sing and would have heaped praise upon her granddaughter.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of being informed that my application to become a postulant to holy orders in my denomination had been rejected. It was a spiritual trauma on the level of losing a mother and I continue to struggle with it in many ways.

One of these ways is the frequent reminders I get when people referred to me a priest, reverend, or a member of the clergy. Usually, I just let it pass. I am part of the royal priesthood of all believers; a priest forever, echoing the title of a book by Carter Heyward that a friend recommended to me, that is still on my “to be read” list. In this sense, I am a priest in the Jesus Movement, to borrow Episcopal Presiding Bishop Curry’s language, even though a particular branch of the Jesus Movement has rejected my postulancy to ordination.

At the same time, I realize there are people for whom the word priest carries a special meaning. They often put a plus sign at the beginning or end of their name and are very concerned about whether someone wears a stole or a tippet. I don’t what such people to feel that I am misrepresenting myself and when one of them refers to me as a priest, I feel compelled to offer some sort of correction and amplification.

I ran into this today as I looked at my Facebook feed. A friend had added me to a closed ‘clergy support group’. The group is described as “a group of Pastors, Deacons, Priests and Bishops from Independent Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Orthodox, and other Christian traditions who are united in intra-faith efforts in order to further the spread of God's love to all people around the world”

Should I remain in this group?

As I try to discern whom God has called me to be a priest, I’ve been spending more time paying attention to Independent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian traditions. Perhaps, as a member of the Royal priesthood and a postulant to a yet to be determined tradition, this is where I am supposed to be right now. However, I don’t want people to have the wrong impressions.

Several months ago, I had sent an email to a friend who is an ordained priest in the denomination that rejected me expressing my uncertainty about whether I could remain in that denomination. The next day, I found she had added me to a clergy support network for ordained priests in that denomination. I believe she had done that in error and given the pain and confusion around my process, I quickly left the group.

The dog snores, the cat is meticulously grooming himself. The rain has paused. I will post this to the clergy support group and see what they have for feedback. I will head off to church and remember my mother and all those who grieve on anniversaries of the deaths of their loved ones.

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Open Ember Letter, Pentecost 2017: Keep the Sabbath Holy, Trust the Process, Trust the Camino, Rebuild My Church

Keep the Sabbath Holy, Trust the Process, Trust the Camino, Rebuild My Church

There is a practice in the Christian tradition of seekers writing quarterly letters to their superiors about what has gone on in their journeys over the past few months. Writing such Ember Letters seems like a valuable practice and I have adopted it for my own journey. However, the events of the past few months have left me uncertain about whom to address this letter, so this time, I am posting it as an open letter, online, to whomever is called to read it and walk alongside me during this part of my journey, whether it be as guide, superior, or fellow seeker.

During the past few months, the priest in my local parish accepted a calling at a parish far away. A bishop in my local diocese made it fairly clear that they did not see a space for me to live into what I believe God is calling me to, within the local diocese. SoI have been thinking much more about what it means to be a pilgrim, a peregrino.

I love my local parish and my local diocese. They feel like the starting point of my current Camino, but that perhaps it is time to move on, to approach them like a beloved albergues on the camino, perhaps as the St. Jean Pied De Port of my current camino; a starting point, not a destination.

For the time being, I continue to worship at my local parish. I continue to be involved with my local diocese, but the journey has begun in earnest. My local parish, my local diocese has become just one more albergue on my Camino.

There are various recommendations offered to seekers along the way, Keep the Sabbath Holy, Trust the Process, Trust the Camino, and Rebuild my church. Each is valuable, yet each has a danger of being taken too literally.

I have been seeking to Keep the Sabbath Holy. A Facebook friend of mine has recently been on a kick about the importance of celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday, and of specific things that need to be done. As I read this, I keep coming back to Jesus saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I am seeking to live into enjoying the loving gift of the Sabbath. A chance to rest knowing that Love who made us, showed us some of that love by inviting us to rest in Love.

I am finding this helpful as I think about Trusting the Process. Many of my friends talk about this in terms of the process of the organized, established church for selecting and forming those that the church will allow to celebrate sacraments. Many of these same people talk about how deeply flawed that process is and of people that have been severely wounded by this process. I now count myself among those with such wounds, and I am struggling to find how to Trust the Process. It now seems like this wounding by the process is an important part of the Process that Love has for me. It is part of what is shaping the next stage of my Camino.

I have known, since the start of my current stage of my Camino, that there is no way that I could complete the Camino on my own. Love must prepare the way. Love must lead me. I had hoped that my local diocese might help me find my current path on my Camino, but now, as I tend the wounds from the process, words from The Cloud of Unknowing come to me, and it seems that I must put even my local diocese below the cloud of forgetting.

In many ways, the real starting point of this current phase of my Camino was the first Bi-Annual Poetry Conference at Yale Divinity School. I had a deep experience of Love speaking to me of how Love is calling me to show Love to those around me. It set me up for me the past two years of struggling with the process.

During this time, I have read and thought and lived more as a pilgrim, a peregrino. I have met fellow travelers along the way. Recently, there was the second Bi-Annual Poetry Conference. It was another wonderful experience, but one of the most important parts for me was not at the conference itself, but talking with a friend at the Divinity School who made a comment that perhaps is my most importance guidance for the next part of this stage.

She noted that part of how you know your calling is that it isn’t something that goes away when you are rejected. She said she did not believe I would be happy until I started divinity school and even though I may not yet know where my Camino is leading, I need to start divinity school as soon as possible, if only as an Ignatian discipline. It was one of those moments when I knew that I had heard some of the Truth that Love has for me.

So, I am embracing these words and have started looking at divinity schools. There are many complications in my Camino. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on it. I need to continue to support my family as I walk my Camino. I don’t even have my Bachelor’s degree. Love must prepare the way. Love must lead me.

Over the past few weeks, I have reached out to find a divinity school where I might study in the fall. One particular school seems especially promising, and I am in the process of putting together my application for their Fall Term. The deadline is July 1st. There are some courses there that I am really interested in, and God willing, I will start classes in the fall.

A local bishop suggested that I explore religious orders along the lines of contemporary Third Orders. They had suggested a Franciscan Order. I am quite draw to certain Franciscan practices. I am also quite draw to certain Benedictine practices and am exploring other ancient orthodox and catholic practices, perhaps from the Eastern Orthodox or from the Celtic Church. I am not yet sure where this will lead. It feels like something I need to keep exploring, but it is not yet time to pursue this, nor at all clear what aspects would make sense pursuing.

In all of this, I find an important possible future stage in my Camino. Joining with St. Francis to rebuild the church, not just San Damiano, or my current local parish or diocese. Perhaps there is something about helping rebuild the church, a post-establishment church. Yet I have much to do and learn before I can help much with that.

At the poetry conference, I picked up Short Trip to the Edge: A Pilgrimage to Prayer. I am reading about a Baptist poet’s trip to prayer and Eastern Orthodoxy. I am finding it very meaningful. Perhaps it provides the best post script to this letter.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Camino du Jour

It is the first Saturday of Easter, and I am approaching….

The problem is, I’m not sure what I’m approaching nor what I am leaving. Unlike walking the Camino de Santiago, even with its different paths, unless you get completely lost, you still know what you are approaching, what you are leaving behind, and what the final goal is. The same applies even to walking a labyrinth. Yet often, in the journeys of our lives, we don’t know that. We wander, perhaps coming back to a place we’ve been to in the past and approaching it newly.

For the past few years, I’ve been interested in the idea of the rhizome from Deleuze and Guattari; the idea that learning and understanding is not a simple straight path with single entry point and a single exit point that can all be fit nicely into clear hierarchy.

Where does our journey to God lead, if the pot cannot understand the mind of the potter? Are we journeying with the mystics to some sort of unitive experience with the divine? Is that experience kataphatic? Apophatic? Affective? Speculative? Are we journeying to some sort of active response to God, doing all things for the love of God? Out of fear of God’s wrath? In some sort of effort to obtain salvation through works? Through fear and trembling?

Who are the pilgrims that walk alongside us during parts of our journey? What role does the established institutional church play? The structures and hierarchies of the church?

I’ve been watching various videos of people on the Camino de Santiago. For each peregrine, even though there is a common path and destination, the journeys are very different. Perhaps someday I will walk the Camino. Until then, I am trying to make the steps of my daily life steps of a pilgrim.

How do we make each step part of our journey to God? How aware are we of where we are going and what is around us? Yesterday, I walked down to the river near where I work at lunch time. There was a light rain. Our journeys, in our daily life and on the Camino aren’t always nice sunny days. Along the way I notice the periwinkle in bloom, the shell of a robin’s egg, an old Christmas tree, brown but still fragrant, and the comb of an old hornets’ nest brought down by winter storms.

Thursday, I went to noonday prayer at a local church. We talked about the reading for Wednesday, which was the story about meeting the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. We are used to going straight from the grief of Good Friday to the joy of resurrection on Sunday. Yet for the disciples, that isn’t the way it was. The disciples walking to Emmaus were still in their grief, compounded by confusion after they had heard stories about the resurrection. When they met Jesus on the road, they did not recognize him. Does that sound odd to you? You’ve spent three years following this person who you think might be the Messiah, but then when you see him, you don’t recognize him. I wonder how often we don’t recognize Christ around us. For those of us that love the Eucharist, the idea of Christ being known to us in the breaking of the bread strongly resonates. Yet tomorrow, we think about doubting Thomas. Christ was made known to Thomas by his wounds. Christ showed his vulnerability. How willing are we to show our vulnerability?

I also wonder if some of what was going on with Thomas was a feeling of being left out. How would you feel or react if you close friends were all talking about something amazing they saw that you didn’t see? Would you say that you don’t really believe it was all that amazing, only to change your tune when that amazing experience came to you?

Tomorrow, I expect to go to church as a pilgrim. I’m not sure which church or denomination it will be. Will I go to the church I’ve been going to for the past several years, or is it time to move on? Will I go to the denomination I’ve been going to for the past forty years, or is it time to move on? Should I go to a church named after Thomas on the day we read his story? Should I go to a church named after Joseph of Arimathea as I look back at the empty tomb? Perhaps I should go to Congregational church, reconnecting to my childhood, to a Russian Orthodox church, connecting to my wife’s ancestry, to a Coptic Orthodox church in solidarity with Egyptian martyrs.

It is the first Saturday of Easter, and I am approaching….

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Tenebrae

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

That feeling when… your coworker comes to talk about a project that she is working with on and you can see that she is struggling with something much greater and you ask her what is going on and she talks about an eighteen month old cousin that unexpectedly stopped breathing. That feeling when… you get a message from your coworker the moment you sit down to your computer asking if she can come over to talk about the project and you know it isn’t about the project, but the cousin has died.

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

That feeling when… you read the stories in social media about the old Asian doctor, trying to get home and the airline, trying to get seats for its employees, calls in the police to remove the man who does not want to give up his seat. You see his bloodied face on video after video. You read the statement from the CEO about the customer being re-accommodated. It is Holy Week, and you think of the re-accommodation of Christ.

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

That feeling when… you hear of another shooting in another school, when you hear of a history of domestic violence and weapons violations, and you hear that the eight year old child who got caught in the gun fire, died.

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

That feeling during Passover when… the White House Press Secretary, trying to defend the missile attacks against Syria, compares the leader of Syria to Hitler saying that even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons against his own people, and when asked to clarify the remarks talks about “holocaust centers”.

I hold all these things in my heart as I walk to the community room in the health center. In a few minutes, I will be the Easter Bunny for many kids coming to our spring celebration. I look at the traffic outside and am told that someone jumped off the Arrigoni Bridge.

I need to bring a little Easter joy to the children of the community, but I still feel mired in the anticipatory grief of Holy Week.

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

There are many reactions that small children have on seeing the Easter bunny. I hold out my arms, and some rush to me. Other’s hide behind their parents. Here is a symbol of joy, of happiness, of something too good to be true, and we are distrustful. We know that something that seems too good to be true probably isn’t really good or true. We hold back. I wonder how much we do that in our personal lives, our emotional lives, our spiritual lives, perhaps even as we approach the Eucharist.

What is it that we are really looking for? To be loved. To be told, it’s okay. It will be okay. To be allowed to be scared, hurt, frightened, or sad, and yet still loved. We long to have our creation in the image of God acknowledged, and not become just another number, another consumer, another entity from which others try to extract wealth. We long to hear truth, but that is not the way of the world.

Instead, we are objects, to be re-accommodated for other’s profits. Even if we offer to serve, our institutions seek to turn our offer into a transaction. So after all the bad news. After holding this while sharing joy with little children, I head off to church, sit quietly, and pray.

Stay here, remain here with me, watch and pray.

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Ouch: Further Reflection on Daring to Become Dependent

The past couple of weeks have been very busy for me. It seems like just about every evening there are two or three events that I should attend, usually at the same time. So, I’ve not been going to a lot of things I would have liked to go to. It seems like this is going to continue for at least a couple more weeks.

It has significantly impacted my writing. Some of the events I’ve missed have been writing events, and when I get home, I don’t have the energy to write, especially not the energy to try and write a poem a day, which had been my goal for Lent, and then for Poetry Month.

This evening, I have only one event scheduled, but I expect it to be exhausting.

This morning, a friend posted a daily reflection online that particularly jumped out at me.

Daring to Become Dependent
April 4

When someone gives us a watch but we never wear it, the watch is not really received. When someone offers us an idea but we do not respond to it, that idea is not truly received. When someone introduces us to a friend but we ignore him or her, that friend does not feel well received.

Receiving is an art. It means allowing the other to become part of our lives. It means daring to become dependent on the other. It asks for the inner freedom to say: "Without you I wouldn't be who I am." Receiving with the heart is therefore a gesture of humility and love. So many people have been deeply hurt because their gifts were not well received. Let us be good receivers.

Henri Nouwen

For further reflection...

Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." - John 4: 6 - 10 (NIV)

Your response...

How can you practice the art of receiving today?

At various church events, we often talk about the Guidelines for Mutuality. One of the guidelines is about practicing self-focus.

When we are practicing self-focus and noticing a feeling of fear, anger, or loss, we might want to literally say “ouch” to alert the group to the impact that some words or actions are having on us.

This came to mind as I read the daily reflection. “Ouch”. Most of the people in my family are much better at showing appreciation when they receive a gift. I’m not as good at it as they are. Yet our house is filled with gifts I’ve given and received that have remained unused.

I think of this also in terms of the gifts God gives us. Do we use those gifts? Do we offer ourselves with these gifts as gifts to others? How are our gifts to our communities received?

I think of that as I pray about my meeting at the end of the day, and all I can say is “ouch.”

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