Ordination Musings

I cannot help but share some musings on this coming Pentecost Sunday when I will be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church (priesthood in late fall). This has been a long journey, some 25 years! But I would not have traded it for anything. Because through all the seasons of faithful and at times painful obedience, of death and newness of life, I have grown a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ – oh happy fault. It is this intimate faith relationship that has helped me say ‘YES’ to God over and over again:

[Our] ‘yes’ to life may initially be a passive ‘yes’, born of lassitude and of regrets, but it can eventually become a ‘yes’ of openness, of acceptance, a ‘yes’ of joy. This ‘yes’ to life, which springs from the deepest part of us, is not a naïve or idealistic ‘yes’’; it is not saying yes to a dream or illusion. It is a ‘yes’ to our deepest self, a ‘yes’ to our past, to our body, to our family, a ‘yes’ to our inner storms, our winters, our pain; a ‘yes’ also to the beauty of life, to sunshine, to fresh air, to running water, to children’s faces, to the song of birds. It is the ‘yes, to our destiny and our growth. It is the ‘yes’ to our own true beauty, even if, at certain times, we cannot see it.  ~ Jean Vanier

It is mightily unsettling for a faithful Roman Catholic woman to encounter a deep intimate call to preaching and to priestly ministry. For a long time I made heroic efforts to talk myself out of it, dancing circles around it in persistent and creative ways – lay ministry is a valid contribution to the church (I still believe that), I had simply been among the Lutherans (and Anglicans) too long for my own good, I was not at the seminary for political reasons (e.g. advancing the cause for women’s ordination in the RC church) but to obtain a post-graduate degree in Pastoral Counselling etc. etc. Every lame explanation concealed my heart’s cry, echoing Jeremiah: do not call me, O God, I am only a Roman Catholic woman. Believe it or not, but for too long I placed ecclesial belonging before God’s will, even though fullness of life lie waiting in the embracing of the priestly vocation.

No surprise then that none of my escape efforts, or the labels I attempted to give my inner experience,  or the feedback from the faith community, or the response I tried to give God, succeeded in fulfilling the desire inside; in spite of that I soldiered on claiming a “call within a call,” i.e. to live an ordained calling/reality in a non-ordained capacity in the RC church for prophetic reasons; it was noble and took courage grounded in prayer.

A dozen years ago I stepped back from my RC involvements to enter an intense love affair with the Anglican tradition, in the hope of finding a new church home and to fulfill my calling. However, while the call to ordained ministry enjoyed strong affirmation, the denominational transition did not. In my heart of hearts I simply could not transfer with the integrity both the Anglican tradition and myself deserved. So after a 1 ½ year discernment period I re-entered RC professional ministry, hoping against all hope that there was more that God needed me to live as a Roman Catholic woman in ministry, however challenging that would be. But God indeed is faithful. Sure enough, there was more …

Yet even in the six years of rewarding pastoral ministry in a large RC parish, ecumenical engagement remained my primary nourishing and affirming faith community. I contended myself with a wide range of ministry opportunities from preaching in Protestant churches to offering retreats at a RC retreat center. And I enjoyed some extremely respectful and supportive friendships with Catholic priests and bishops with whom I worked well and could share details of my inner priestly landscape.

Despite a wide range of ministry opportunities, which afforded much joy and satisfaction, the priestly nature of the call continued to assert itself. Consciously grounding my ministry in the priestly charism, a charism which grew stubbornly in my heart in near-desert conditions, directly increased my capacity to love all people, to serve all people, to offer wise, patient and compassionate counsel to those in need. I derived a deep and abiding joy from my ministry which, while not sacramental in the traditional sense, nevertheless provided profound sacramental moments and dynamics.

The priestly charism served as a guiding light, providing rich soil for my personal prayer life; it provided the locus of meaning and purpose as I reflected on, prayed with and interpreted my ministerial experiences; finally, the faith community always managed to recognize, call forth and affirm the priestly nature of my being. I discovered the ontological nature of this sacred calling and that I could live it creatively even in a non-ordained capacity.

While settling into this reality as permanent, God was clearly not finished with me yet. A few years ago, I gladly accepted to lead worship and preach in my local Anglican parish (to which I remained very close since that first Anglican courtship) when its priest retired. My heart leaped for joy and lo and behold, the deep desire for ordination, to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments, once again rose to the surface like cream on fresh milk. Its perennial newness and depth, beauty and intensity caught me off guard, revealing a sweet authenticating power pressed from the many years of cross and resurrection this calling had challenged me to embrace.

Ten years had passed since that first Anglican love-affair; I was now in a different place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, with a lot more pastoral and ecumenical experience under my belt. This time God and my own heart released me; I fell into an unreserved yes with such fullness and joy, the likes of which I had not tasted since I uttered the “yes” to my spouse some 38 years previously. The joy, peace and clarity moved in swiftly, communicating an unmistakable affirmation and blessing.

I am discovering that nothing is wasted for our God whose love and guidance is steadfast and reliable, provided we keep our hearts open and soft to God’s merciful touch. But a priestly calling is never intended for the person nor for personal holiness; it is instead intended to serve the faith community. I have been acutely aware of this constitutive aspect of my vocational experience, and thus suffered from the withholding of that ecclesial blessing despite the manifold surprising ministry opportunities I have enjoyed over those same years. So to now receive the much longed-for ecclesial recognition of this vocation is overwhelming beyond words.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for my new ecclesial home in the Anglican tradition while I continue to cherish deep affection and healthy relational ties with my Roman Catholic faith family, my ecclesial birth home. The Anglican tradition has ample room for my Catholic heart and for my Protestant leanings. The Anglican expression of Christian discipleship has gifts and challenges that I need in my spiritual walk at this time. At the same time, I come bearing gifts of my own along with a willingness to serve the Body of Christ in the Anglican church family as well as continue to give my best efforts to the quest for UNITY in this same Body of Christ, the church universal.

DeaconMLT4

Finally, I am immensely grateful to our local ecumenical Women-in-Ministry group. This group of valiant women are faithful servants of Christ who serve in a variety of ministry roles across a wide denominational spectrum. Their friendship and support, their joyful witness and disarming capacity for mingling both sad and happy tears have been a source of soul-food, joy and inspiration to me. I am amazed that we are in our tenth year monthly lunches! Many friendships and professional partnerings have had their genesis in that small dining room at Queen’s House. And it doesn’t look like the lunches will cease anytime soon!

 

Diaconate_1And so my soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

For God has looked upon this lowly servant
and called me blessed.

(adapted, Luke 1:46-48)

For more photos of the ordination, go to my Facebook Page

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The Love Potion of the Cross

Many years ago, I worked as editor for a Canadian Catholic family magazine published by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The office was located on one of the Oblates’ lovely farm properties. Most mornings, before entering the building where my office was located, I would take my walk with God through the wooded area on this beautiful slice of creation, stopping at the Marian shrine at the end of a long lane. Some of the rocks at this grotto were formed in the shape of a big cross. I would touch these rocks and pray, offering to Jesus whatever was in my heart at the time.

Every time that cross confronted me. It invited me into love, and in that invitation revealed my own inadequacy to live in this love. Some days this cross seemed to mock me, because of my unwillingness to love generously. Other days I was drawn into a depth of mystery too big for words. Every time I learnt a bit more about that liberating and healing power released when pain, suffering and death are infused with radical and uncompromising love. I would try to take that lesson with me into the day, in particular when encountering pain, conflict and death.

Back in 2002, when the World Youth Day Cross was making its way through Canada in preparation for the great event in Toronto the following year, my own little ritual at the grotto increased in meaning and power. The testimonies of those who received the Cross in their communities revealed profound lessons and experiences in love and reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. On Manitoulin Island, Ontario, the Cross was taken to the native reserve’s cemetery, to the home of a young man murdered a month before and then to all places on the reserve where tragic accidents had occurred. How I wish that the same cross could have been taken through the schools and community of LaLoche recently. The Cross stopped at the site of a former residential school, and “all prayed for forgiveness and healing for former students and staff.” In Whitehorse, Yukon, the Cross was carried to a local food bank, “where it stood inviting all to come and pray, and was a sign of Christ’s love for the poor in our community.” From Amos, Quebec, came the account that the visit of the Cross was “as if Jesus came to visit us in our little village.”The people from Chibougamau exclaimed, “For once, we have not been forgotten!”

Many who encountered the World Youth Day Cross that year reported feeling invited by Jesus to reflect on its meaning and on their own call to Christian love in places of poverty, pain, and suffering. That, in essence, is what the cross is meant to do. There is a big difference between reverence for reasons of idolatry and reverence for reasons of healing, service and love. The first kind regards venerating the cross as an end in itself, with the risk of bordering on superstition; the second kind of reverence lets the meaning of the cross penetrate us in order to change us. The perennial temptation can take us on the path of the former without necessarily touching on the challenge of the latter. Venerating the cross without making connections to our own local realities of suffering, and without committing ourselves to be Christ’s healing love in those realities, necessitates an examination of motives.

One day, a woman poured her heart out to me. Pain, suppressed from a lifetime of abuse, came gushing out so forcefully that she feared for her sanity. I witnessed that pain piercing her body like the nails pierced Christ on the cross. There before me was a contemporary crucifixion complete with the challenge of Jesus to infuse God’s love into this woman through my words and looks, gestures and touch, and ardent prayers. Offering God’s soothing presence in the swirling wind of this emotional hurricane was almost more than I could bear. Yet I knew it was the only power that could redeem her into new life.

Even casualties from war, destruction and terrorism cannot heal through violent retaliations. Even the most evil acts need the power of a forgiving love that will not flinch. An Episcopalian/Anglican writer, Gale D. Webb, caught this aspect of forgiveness when he wrote in his book The Night and Nothing: The only way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living, human being. When it is absorbed there, like blood in a sponge or a spear thrown into one’s heart, it loses its power and goes no further.

M. Scott Peck, a Christian psychiatrist, echoes a similar sentiment in his conclusion to People of the Lie. For the healing of evil, … A willing sacrifice is required…He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil…There is a mysterious alchemy whereby the victim becomes the victor…I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does…Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world.

And so in this Lenten season I gaze upon the cross with renewed intensity and yearning. At we are nearing the mid-point of our slow and hopefully prayerful trek towards Holy Week, once again, in my imagination, I touch the rocks at the grotto from those morning walks many years ago and, for a moment, I feel once again the power of love in my bones, a love exploding the destruction of all pain,  suffering and death.

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Rain down, rain down

While I’m enjoying the lushness, lightness and warmth of summer, along with creative challenges in a new job, others suffer because of summer. It’s been bone dry here and the forest fires are raging up north, devouring enormous territories with their fiery flames. I find myself praying for the wildlife who, even if they seek protection in the lakes, may well suffocate from the thick smoke in the air. I’m praying for the 13,000 evacuees displaced from their homes and for the countless firefighters risking their own lives. I’m praying for farmers seeing their crops wither in soil cracked by drought.

I’m praying for my new immigrant friends from various French-speaking African countries who have settled in our community. They have left everything, many have spent their savings coming here, and now after less than two years they too are victims of a the parched prairie fields  — most of them have just been laid off and only have 45 days to find other work in the category for which they were recruited. My heart goes out to them — I so don’t want them to have to leave us. Rain down, O God, rain down a shower of work opportunities close to us.

I’m praying for friends facing serious health issues who need a good rainfall of blessings to lift drooping spirits. It seems that even conscientious healthy living is no longer adequate protection against cancer.  In the past few months 3 people have died in my circle of friends. I’m praying for others facing losses of a different nature, some of them more hidden in their own spirits. Rain down, O God, rain down, showers of comforting love on those who long for what once was and for those who mourn loved ones.

Besides all my own loved ones, there are all the other loved ones in the world: the millions of refugees, the women and children exploited through human trafficking, the Greek people facing severe austerity measures,  kids bullying kids, etc. etc. There is no end to parched spirits and lives — rain down, O God, rain down.

Now in all fairness, we did have a good dump of rain here in the past few days — how precious and life-giving those drops from heaven can feel after a time of parched fields and throats. Our daughter Rachelle, who’s gardening on our farm for the first time this summer, was delirious with joy as her Facebook posting reveals:  4cm/1.5 inches of rain!!! What a joyous feeling! I could even hear the plants jumping for joy!! No rain since June 13th and before that had been about a monthish too I think so has been really dry here at the farm. Really makes you appreciate the rain when it does come!! Excited to see the gardens response to the rain over the next week especially!  I was also running and dancing in the rain!! Even went swimming in the lake in the rain! Felt so awesome! And yup gardens are looking pretty nice despite the dry conditions and already look nicer this morning as I just took a garden walk around the edges of a few of the gardens out here! Happy plants, happy people!

Rejoicing with my daughter in this life-giving water on dry gardens and crops, I sing for all parched fields and throats, spirits and lives:Waterfall2

Rain down, rain down,
rain down your love on your people.
Rain down, rain down,
rain down your love, God of life.

Faithful and true is the word of our God.
All of God’s works are so worthy of trust.
God’s mercy falls on the just and the right;
full of God’s love is the earth.

We who revere and find hope in our God
Live in the kindness and joy of God’s wing.
God will protect us from darkness and death;
God will not leave us to starve.

God of creation, we long for your truth;
You are the water of life that we thirst.
Grant that your love and your peace touch our hearts,
All of our hope lies in you.
(lyrics by Jamie Cortez, 1991)

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Psalm … with help from Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

You have placed within me a spirit capable
of soaring to the highest heavens like an eagle on wind currents
drunk with abandon in joy and pleasure beyond measure.
Yet mystery of mysteries, that same spirit plunges
as low as the ocean floor consumed by fear,
captive to despair and darkness.

While yearning burns deep within
for communion with you, O Holy Mystery,
my humanity and creatureliness
continuously pull me away from you.
Your precious and loving gift of free will
is both blessing and curse.
I praise and thank you yet.

But, O God, on days when darkness and despair
invade my soul like guests, unannounced,
unwelcome and unfriendly I cry to you in helpless hope
like a lamb trapped in a lion’s den.
Your most-feared absence in the abyss
holds the sweetest, most mysterious yet potent promise
of your most holy presence.
Truly, you did descend into hell,  transforming
its destructive fire into purifying flames,
redeeming the ultimate darkness, death, itself.

Help me, O God, to always err
on the side of excess of mercy
rather than excess of severity
both towards myself and towards others.
Thus your image and likeness
will shine forth more and more
through every fibre of my whole being.
My eternal home lies in this quest and you,
O Holy Source and Destiny of my life,
draw me thus irresistibly and always.

In my final days, as you will separate
the last intricate fibers of my earthly being,
grant me the grace to cling to you in my nothingness,
finding fullness and destiny in your eternal bosom
of love and mercy and compassion.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I sing and shout for joy for each day death and pain
dance with eternal and holy life-giving light, mercy and love.
ALLELUIA

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