Yesterday a number of us clergy gathered with one of our bishops and reaffirmed our ordination vows. We do this every Tuesday before Easter, and after more than a quarter century as a priest, it has not lost its significance. Maybe the reason is because vows are not just promises, and they’re not just promises to God. There is always a story behind a vow. There is the story of a romance and a mutual commitment behind marriage vows. There is the story of history, campaigns and promises behind the vows of a public servant. There is the story of an emerging vocation and years of schooling before a doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath. And there is the story of a discovered vocation, its validation in community, study and preparation, and ceremony behind the vows of a clergy person.
My story started when I was 8, when I committed myself to the Christian path. It took turns during High School, a major one being in my Senior year when I committed myself to full-time Christian service. It turned again in my 20’s when I discovered the Episcopal Church and almost immediately felt like I had come home. Very quickly, the possibility of ordained service was put before me, and I remember like it was yesterday when I realized that if I were faithful on the path, it would become a reality. Then on those days in May of 1990 and November of 1991 when I was ordained deacon and then priest, and especially at my priestly ordination, the sense of divine fire descending upon me so burned into my soul that I can never forget it.
So, when I stand before the bishop and say, “I do,” to the questions of reaffirmation, the whole story comes flooding back, and I know why I am a priest.
For western Christians around the globe, this is Holy Week. It is the highest, most holy time of the year, spanning from Palm Sunday to Easter Day. We move through the week, reenacting the significant moments in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper to the Crucifixion, and then finally culminating in the Resurrection on Easter Day.
(Most clergy take the Monday after Easter off!)
What makes it “holy?” What does the word mean? The quick answer is the least helpful: that which is set aside for divine use is termed “holy.” However, if the divine truly upholds all things in existence, then all things are holy, and the term loses its meaning for lack of contrast. When we use the synonym, “sacred,” and set it over against Mircea Eliade’s “profane,” then that which is holy is that which is known to be especially revealing of the numinous, the divine. That which is holy is where or about what the human capacity to know the transcendent becomes engaged. We recognize the holy because we are capable of knowing the holy. We have a hand in making things holy, not first by the will, but by the spirit recognizing the True, and then the will engaging our action to honor it.
Holy Week is a time set aside to engage that part of us that is capable of knowing the holy in terms of those most holy acts of God on our behalf that we Christians recognize in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether or not you also recognize God in Jesus, I invite you to take this time to open your own spirit to the holy as you know it along with all your (western) Christian sisters and brothers.
A pastor of a megachurch in Memphis has resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct 20 years ago with a then 17-year-old High Schooler. She was part of his youth group in a church in Houston. At the time they considered the actions consensual, ignoring the fact that the woman was under-age. When Mr. Savage was hired at his current church the incident was admitted, but the full extent of it was not. Now, after an investigation that brought it all to light, he has stepped down.
This is not a new story, except for one thing. There was never any denial of the event on the part of the pastor. Oh, for sure, the event was minimalized and not fully disclosed, and at one point the church leadership said that he was also “a victim,” but the article I just read didn’t show him fighting to keep his good name. He admitted clearly that he had done wrong, and he stepped down as pastor. No tabloid drama of allegations and negations and forced digging for sordid facts. He was wrong, and when confronted by the real victim, he admitted it fully. His victim did right in joining the #MeToo movement and bringing this incident into the light of day. I pray for healing for both of them.
A religious community is not perfect, no matter what the stripe. It should never claim to be. The accusation of “hypocrite” is true. What a religious community is all about is not showing the world a perfect human society, but one that is struggling to be come so; not perfect human beings, but people on the journey to full humanity. It serves no one to try to measure the gap between the real and the ideal in another, but only to be driven by the awareness of that gap within oneself to strive forward. It serves no community of faith to try to measure the gap between word and deed in another, but to push forward according to their own tradition toward their vision of full humanity.
May #MeToo call us all to reckoning.
They caught the serial bomber in Austin, TX. They cornered him and he used his own grisly methods against himself. He lived by the bomb and he died by the bomb. How many times do shooters, terrorists and others who live by violence die violently, and often at their own hands rather than coming to justice? Why does violence so often lead to a bloody end?
Oh, for a moment’s true surrender to a purpose greater than one’s ego, the largeness of spirit that looks beyond one’s own skin and one’s own fears to truly see the face of another!
This is what the spiritual life calls us to.
When the march starts in Gough Park this Saturday to protest gun violence, I’ll be there.
I recently read an article in the Catholic National Reporter about a Catholic diocese in southwest Wisconsin whose bishop is at least sympathetic to, if not a member of The Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. This group is working hard to reverse the changes in the Catholic Church installed in the 1960’s during the Second Vatican Council. Masses are said in Latin, girls are not allowed as acolytes, funeral rites for LGBTQ people are forbidden, only priests distribute the elements, and only the bread is distributed, not the wine. Added to these liturgical moves, Protestants (indeed, anyone not a Catholic) are all going to hell when they die. I guess even Pope Francis has his opposition, and however radical his reforms are, to that extent his opponents will push back.
When I look back over the developments of the last two presidencies of this country I can trace a similar pendulum swing. There were those who applauded Obama as president simply because he is African American. There were those who were disgusted at the “n____ in the White House.” (Yes, my wife heard exactly those words from someone.) The political climate swung to the left. Now we have a President who seems to be pushing the other direction with the full weight of his twitter account.
One would wish for something solid, not always in flux. Society seems unable to establish a stasis, especially in this time of profound global social change, but I think stasis is not only elusive, but ultimately impossible, and for good reasons. We are, as one theologian said, “cast in time.” Time moves along. The only stasis is that instant of now, which as soon as it is known is gone. Even the great spiritual masters who learned to live constantly in the Eternal Now eventually grow old and die. The only stasis that truly exists must be outside of time.
So, swing we will, and the good news is that the pendulum almost never swings back to where it came from. Ultimately yesterday’s “normal” is today’s past. Today’s dreams may become tomorrow’s reality.
Ours is to learn to live in the Eternal Now even as we stand on the swinging ball, and out of the vision of the Now, try to push the ball toward greater wisdom and compassion.
Yesterday winds howled through Silver City with gusts to 45 miles per hour. We get that sort of air periodically, especially in the Spring. It’s a bit early, but so is Spring this year—the Turkey Vultures are back and they aren’t due until April.
I took Sam out yesterday. Sam is a first-year Red-tailed Hawk that I have trained in falconry, and he’s a fun bird. He is amazingly aerial. The wind was a bit hard for him to pump directly into, but he used it as well, kiting across the sky at amazing speeds, and settling onto treetops with ballerina-like delicacy. He knows how to handle wind, but not brush. He tried to catch a rabbit in thick catclaw. He hung up in the brush a full foot off the ground, and when he finally extricated himself and shook his feathers out, bits of thorn and leaf flew off his body like dust! Jackrabbits, creatures of open spaces, use wind against hawks, running directly into it, or with it, only to button-hook out of the hawk’s way just as the hawk is closing in, sending the airborne predator sailing downwind and away.
Hawks are creatures of the air. They know it like I know the way my truck handles on the road. They struggle with it head-on and have to learn the wiles of jackrabbits, but they quickly learn to go with it. I’m convinced they play in the wind, letting it push them here and there just for the sheer joy of movement.
Wind, in Hebrew, ruach, in Greek, pneuma, both have double meanings: the breath of the earth (including one’s own breath,) and the breath of God. Jackrabbits and hawks, both breathing creatures of God, who live by breath, live and move in the breath of God, just like you and me. We can fight it, or we can learn to go with it. We cannot choose whether or not to be in wind, we can only choose how we respond. One choice leads to bitterness, the other to the two great spiritual virtues of wisdom and compassion.
Yesterday students from around the country walked out of class to gather and let their voices be heard about school gun violence. Some of the young orators were very articulate. Future politicians were speaking to us, perhaps, maybe even statesmen and women who rise above the tides of political intrigue to offer true leadership in our troubled times. They called for gun control, they called for Congress to act, they called for greater attention to the outcasts among us, and more than anything else, they rejected any move to put guns in classrooms. And they threatened the current incumbents with being voted out of office if they didn’t get something real done.
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
(Artwork by William Strutt)