I’m sort of unpacking the weekend. “Unpacking” is a word like take-away, a buzz word, and I don’t like words like that, but I don’t know how else to explain.
We had Old Testament study yesterday at school. ALL DAY. We talked about the difference between BC and BCE, we sat through lectures with most of the same material in our homework readings. Yesterday was a long day.
Today we had our own imperfect brand of church. All these people who dearly miss home, bringing to the altar all of their own wishes, dreams and prayers, all of their own brands and kinds of desperation and despair. I wrote about how the wine tastes better at home, and this was an experience like that. In my own defense, I don’t, really don’t, think it’s wrong to like what you like. I like how we do church at home, and so am learning to fumble through something I love with people who are doing it
Today though we had the sorts of classes that are meaningful to me. We learned about the lectionary, the rubrics, how to find the proper for the day and the correct canticles. I’d thought I was pretty well acquainted with my Book of Common Prayer and realized today I had only scratched the surface.
After lunch we had more classroom time. At this point everyone was about done. We didn’t think we could take one more lecture, one more discussion, one more note. We started the days with breakfast at 8:05, morning prayer and then were in class until after 8pm on Saturday night.
As our instructors were cleaning a DVD that was skipping I daydreamed just a little. I was so tired.
I had the most interesting little daydream, I had invited my church to come out and look at the stars. I went into the nave and they were all there, these beloved faces, and I said, you guys have to come see this. In the daydream they never left the church, and so talking them into coming outside with me was a task, but it was accomplished. And we all stood in the parking lot next to the Prayer Garden, and we craned our necks and we gazed at the stars.
And we saw things we had never seen before.
After the instructional DVD was up and running we encountered 45 minutes of spellbinding lecture from a deacon in Texas. She talked about how every person is baptized into the same ministry, the same call to arms, to action, to change. She talked about how ordained ministry is not apart, not above, not holier or better. I imagined this large circle, all of my people spread out in a big circle around the nave. She said that being ordained is only where you stand, we are still the same, all still committed to the same baptismal vows.
She said that ordained ministry, specifically that of a deacon, is a distilled form of that baptismal covenant. She talked about the diaconate as a diamond with many facets.
I imagined then laying on a cot in the basement at church, with a large, old fashioned glass IV bottle above me, dripping this distilled version of a calling to care for the world that belongs to each. one. of us. into my veins. I imagined that it burned a bit, this drip, this distilled mission and call.
We talked about going underneath. We can feed people and feed people and feed them again, but our true work is to find out why they need to be fed. Where has our system failed and left people hungry? We talked about a deacon being a LIVING CHALLENGE to hierarchy and privilege. We talked about being rebels.
I imagined being a vessel. During the confirmation process I wrote and wrote, trying to process what was happening to me. This weekend I described it as an opening of a drawer, sifting through these ideas and thoughts, trying to ask myself if each one was something I’d been told to believe, if I did believe it, if I believed it still. It was an emptying out. Now my drawer is being refilled.
And the part that excites and terrifies me is that I get to decide what goes into this vessel.
I get to decide what I will reject and embrace.
I get to turn over this bright and fiery diamond of ordained ministry in my hands and see what facets of that rock reflect back my face.
I had an interesting encounter this morning.
I went out the backdoor about 8am, and there was a very old man in a collar and a baseball cap sitting on the bench.
He said, do you want to sit here?
I said, that’s ok, I’ll walk a bit.
I walked to the end of the long parking lot and came back, trying to decide, just one cup of lukewarm coffee into the day if I had it in me to talk with this man. Curious all the same though, to see what shape that conversation would take.
I stopped and he asked me why my group was at the retreat center (for the sake of clarity, this place is HUGE and not only hosts multiple retreats for different groups at the same time but as a whole wing that houses retired Catholic clergy and monks). I hesitated.
I didn’t want to make an old man angry this early in the morning. Last I knew Catholics did not ordain women, not even to the diaconate.
I told him though, tilted my chin up in that way I have, squared my cowboy boots (because my brother has brave socks, and my boots remind me of him, and to be brave) and I said, actually Father, I am in the process of being ordained a deacon in the Episcopal church, this is our form of seminary.
He was quiet. He leaned on his cane and sighed. I thought the worst.
And then he looked up at me, watery eyes and quavering voice, and he said, there is so much work to do. My prayers go with you child.
I thought about what it would be like, to come to end of all things, and to wind up in a place like this. No family, only old friends, only a parish you have served and the people who might come and visit you. I thought about all of the men who lived out sacred vows living in varying states of decay. This man said he’d been there about three months. And I wanted to ask how it was, but felt like at the same time it was none of my business.
So I took my blessing and went to breakfast. The blessing was the real food, the needed benediction.
I have to write a reflection on my current state of being with God and soul and send it to the Archdeacon.
My reflection goes something like this:
Archdeacon: I am so tired. I am conflicted, confused, bothered, bewildered.
I feel like I am a vessel and slowly filling with a cloudy liquid. I feel like I have bared my arm to a needle and am wincing at the sting. The needle is big, the infusion bottle so big.
My vessel is like my cloak, it is cracked and chipped as my cloak is incomplete and stained in spots. My vessel reflects back the light and make rainbows on the kitchen wall.
Archdeacon: I understand the fear of existing in a place that is not church and not the world. I am scared too. I understand the fear of liminality, of existing on a threshold between here and there, then and now. I understand the fear of somehow walking off the edge of the world and not being able to find my way back.
I am lost in the woods.
I am in a basement with a glass bottle full of the distilled properties of my baptismal covenant, of my confirmation vows, of my girlhood self, of my wifely self, my motherly self; and finally, my own self.
I am on a table and I am baring my vein for a needle to receive this infusion.
I am a chipped and cracked and broken person. I wrap myself, not in a clean mantle, not in a white robe, but in a patchwork cloak,. It protects me from the cold all the same, most of the time.
Archdeacon: I am not yet a postulant, but this is my ember day letter to you. This is where I am.
Someday, I will stride with my (what I am told is a very distinct and purposeful) stride into my church. I will open the door of the nave and I will see the people that I belong to gathered there.
I will say to them, come and look at the stars with me. Come and see how beautiful and broken the world is, how much you are needed.
I will hold a music box.
When we are all gathered in the dark of our parking lot, blocks from Lake Michigan, next to our prayer garden, I will open the box.
The ballerina will pop up and she will begin to dance.
The song will be the need of the world, and the church, my people, will understand.
Because the truest form of communication is music, and the ballerina dancing to her tinny song will show the people what the world needs. And the stars will shine in the sky, and we will number them, point out the constellations, the geography of human despair will become known, reflected back at us from a million miles away.
Archdeacon: I am in prayer for you, as a Catholic priest that I do not know, is in prayer for me.
I know these things to be true.
And I love you still.