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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Alone No More

Fourteen of us women gathered for our monthly lunch, each of us active in (or retired from) professional church ministry, some ordained, some religious sisters and others in a lay-capacity; Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Community of Christ, Pentecostal/Evangelical, United, Lutheran. Some of our sharing centered around human pain and suffering far and near; the tsunami of refugees flooding Europe and now arriving steadily on Canadian soil, the couple with two young children killed in a tragic car accident in Saskatoon earlier this week, our First Nations missing and murdered sisters, beloved friends–family–co-workers facing sudden death and illness. How do we, ministers of the Gospel of Jesus, respond to such a perfect storm of human pain, a lot of it unsolicited, unnecessary and almost always undeserved?

Our conversation reminded me of the destruction brought on by tsunamis. In the two tsunamis the world has witnessed in this century (2004 & 2011)  contact with water ended life abruptly, within minutes, for multitudes of good, innocent people while leaving millions without the basic necessities of life. The elements of nature – water, fire, air – have a power beyond our understanding and beyond our control. Worse than this is happening in Syria at the moment, where calculated evil by human design is using food, water and medicine as weapons of war, systematically starving ordinary beautiful women, men and children.

Today, Sunday January 10 2016, the Church celebrates the baptism of Jesus. Does this event have any message for the millions of desperate people in every corner of our broken world? Jesus comes to John to be baptized in death-dealing waters. But why? Why does Jesus need to immerse himself in these waters if he is the Holy One, the one without sin, the Son of God?

John the Baptist knew of death and destruction, knew of sin and decay that is as real as the current moaning and groaning breaking the sound barrier all around the globe. Everywhere good people are perishing because of war and violence, illness and sudden death, natural disasters or starvation. Sin and decay are real, says John, and he called out for people to repent, and to “die to sin” in the waters of the Jordan, and be baptized.

For just as water can destroy, so water also gives life. Water is what the survivors of the tsunamis needed most and right away. And from all over the world water purification systems were flown in at amazing speed. Just as water kills, water also saves. Clean, safe drinking water means LIFE! Clean, safe drinking water and shelter, food and medicine is what refugees need right now. Clean and safe support and comfort is what loved ones need to dry tear-stained faces and mend broken hearts.

And just as we can kill others in so many subtle and blatant ways, we can rise to the radiance of compassion and mercy. Baptism holds in tension both the destructive and the life-giving qualities of the human spirit, of human existence. Baptism enacts ritually a dying to the destructive forces of life (within and without), so as to rise from the waters a new creation. Every time we baptize a new member of God’s family, every time we bless ourselves with holy water, we recall both these destructive and life-giving powers of life symbolized in water.

At the start of his public ministry, Jesus insists on being immersed in waters that can destroy and re-create, waters filthy with decay and capable of cleansing, waters that hold the key to salvation. The Jordan River was not exactly filled with clean, calm and warm water like the fonts in our churches. People and animals “lived” in the river; the forces of nature controlled the river, and both food and poison swirled between its banks.

It is this identification which reveals the central message of incarnation and redemption. Jesus entered into complete solidarity with all women and men everywhere and in every time. Jesus’ baptism reinforces the incarnation – God entering into radical solidarity with all humanity, indeed with all creation.

In the waters of the Jordan Jesus takes upon himself sin and destruction, grief and suffering, even though he himself was without sin, was the Holy One. The “one more powerful” assumes the position of weakness. It is precisely in this radical act of solidarity that Jesus is the Beloved of God. And it is from this baptism that he is sent, to love and forgive and heal — a way of life that lead right onto the cross where he experienced the pain of utter abandonment. The powerful message in Jesus’ witness is that, from then on, no one ever has to bear pain alone and abandoned, for Jesus has been there, done that, and he will hold us close.

In much the same way, we are sent forth from our baptism – to continue, to complete, to bring about that which Jesus inaugurated and revealed as God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life: God’s reign of peace and justice, mercy and love for all – no exception.

The great opera composer Giacomo Puccini, while composing Turandot, was told in 1922 that he had terminal cancer. Rather than quit his beloved project, however, he told his friends “I am going to work on my masterwork as hard as I can and as long as I can. If I don’t make it, the finishing will be up to you.”

Puccini died in 1924, and the opera premiered in Milan, Italy, under the direction of one of the composer’s best students, Arturo Toscanini. The performance continued up to the point at which Puccini’s work had abruptly ended. Toscanini paused, turned to the audience with tears in his eyes and said: ‘This is where the master left off ….’ Then Toscanini turned back to the orchestra, picked up the baton and shouted over his shoulder to the audience, ‘And this is where his friends begin.’ And the orchestra completed a remarkable performance.

And this is where our lunch conversation ended up: we all face our share of suffering in life. Worse than the suffering itself, however, is to feel abandoned and alone in bearing it. Like Puccini’s friends, we are called to carry on where Jesus left off. Allowing Jesus to mold our very identity and purpose, our task is to pull one another from destructive waters – of sin and death – into life-giving waters by our compassionate and merciful presence in one another’s pain –avoiding fear, resisting indifference, staying clear of pat answers or saccharine pity. Through simple and great acts of mercy and communion we bring, in time, God’s peace and justice to all people everywhere. Knowing that we are not alone to face the world’s demons, big and small, feeds hope and courage and resiliency. Whether in Europe, South East Asia, in the Middle East or right in our own cities and towns, we have Good News to share: to demonstrate with our own lives that contact with God’s waters of life does not destroy, but gives life.

While Jesus fulfilled God’s will, and showed us the pathway to everlasting life he did not leave a finished product. Rather, he showed us the way, the truth and the life or, as some of our churches are fond of saying, opened the gates of heaven. He left us an unfinished symphony, a symphony that needs our very lives in order to be completed. Baptism officially commissions us to help complete Jesus’ masterpiece in progress called the reign of God. It’s a matter of life and death for the many who are crying out in pain, who are burdened with suffering.

The Christmas season ends today, at the banks of the Jordan River. But the Messiah remains. The adult Jesus begins his precarious journey to Jerusalem. The good news as spoken by the angels is not to be forgotten, but needs to continue in our lives. On the cross, Jesus’ mission was completed. Now it’s up to us, who are part of the world’s two billion baptized people, an entity some have called a sleeping giant. We are commissioned to bring healing and mercy, to bring God’s divine touch of love each day and everywhere. Jesus has no other plan but us.

Getting up from our lunch table, each of us returned to our respective churches and ministries, strengthened and nourished in body and spirit by one another’s clean and safe love, courage and faithfulness, equipped anew to mend our broken world.

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