When I was a little girl my favorite song went, there’s a fountain free ’tis for you and me, let us haste oh haste to it’s brink… I remember being so excited as the song leader (usually a relative of mine) would stand up and announce the hymn number, take out the tuning pipe, blow into it, and begin to sing.
I still feel that way when I see that a favorite hymn is in the line up, I will hum it myself, see if I can find the starting pitch, if I remember how it goes. Music has fed me for so long, and a huge part of my discernment to ordained ministry included very fat tears that rolled slowly down my cheeks as I realized that I probably could not sing in the choir any more.
I wondered how God could ask me to give music up, I wondered what else I would be called to let go of.
I watched a sermon from “at home” last Sunday. I watched as my brother admonished and called the people to their own ministry, how he gave them one minute to stand up and find a person and to share their experience of love in this parish, of community in this parish. The camera panned back… and lo and behold! they rose. Hands out and faces eager, they rose and they shook hands and they hugged, but more importantly they shared, they evangelized to their own people. I cried watching it, people I can pick out and name and they were DOING IT, they were being the ministers they have been called to be.
I wished that we could all be brave enough to live who we are called to be.
This weekend our last class was with an excellent and eloquent speaker out of the diocese of Texas. She talked to us about the spirituality of the ordained and left us (me?) feeling woefully inadequate.
She talked about how we are clay, how this was never about the academics. Seminary training, however “part time” some folks would call it, is about formation. It is about our instructors being handed lumps of clay and given the task of molding us into the leaders that we were called to be. She referred to her own time in seminary as thin time, like thin spaces, time where the veils between our world and the next seem very thin, where everything seems so very close and present and immediate.
For me thin spaces, thin time, can be painful as well. For me, thin spaces and thin time make me confront the things that are inside of me that I am not particularly proud of, they make me long for places and people and times that are long past. They remind me of my own guaranteed mortality.
We had to make a list (ok, I made a list, she actually said “reflect”) on where we were when we entered school and where we are now. I made my list, and I don’t know if it was a sense of being exhausted, of an introvert being peopled to death, of missing my customary Saturday afternoon free-time nap…I don’t know if it was watching a bishop consecrate and break bread that I made, watching friends be ordained and dressed in their stoles, the way the voices of the choir I gathered bounced around the nave; it could have been any of those things, but the weekend was particularly thin for me.
We turned to a partner after our list making (reflection) and shared. My friend shared with me a sense of being unworthy. And I started to speak and words came out that I hadn’t planned on, my face twisted and I cried and turned away all at once.
Why am I ashamed of my tears? Why do I apologize when I cry?
Our teacher talked about spirituality that is adequate to the task. We are not the folks who show up a few times a month to church. We are not the people who volunteer sometimes. We are the people who have the spirituality and expectations of other folks projected always onto us. We are the folks who, along with the symbols of bread and wine, represent God as ordained and called leaders. All talk of baptismal ministry being the same, we are the ones who have to show up broken and tired and over it. We are the ones who have to show up even when we are empty.
Empty was one of the words I wrote down.
I feel empty.
I feel scared. I feel upsidedown and not ready. I told my friend that I can’t find God and I know that it’s because I am hiding. I know that the walls I have built around myself, this great tower I can imagine and romanticize in my brain… I know that I have put myself there so that I can pretend I don’t hear what is being said. So that I can go forward with MY plan.
Our instructor talked of us being emptied so that we can be filled with the power of Christ, emptied of ego, emptied of our own plans, emptied of our own desires and submitting fully in perfect freedom. But she also warned that we will need to find a thing or a place or a person that fills us again.
I imagined myself again, on that cot in the basement of my church, with the infusion bottle that would fill me with the distillation of my baptismal covenant, of my marriage vows, of all of the things I have promised everyone that I would be. Am I to be chained to my cot? How do I do ministry from there? I actually pictured walking around with an IV pole and a needle stuck in my arm.
Another friend shared an image of the trinity. She said that just as the disciples laid down their lives for and submitted to Christ, he laid down his life and submitted to them. She said that their love overflowed and it covered the whole world. Thus the fountain, thus the need to find this eternal well, this eternal spring of renewal.
I don’t know, friends. I just don’t. I was so sure and over the last few years have had the rug yanked out from under me. Interestingly enough our homework assignment for the summer is a book….and a paper detailing our convictions.
I am not convicted of much. But I know these things are true. Sometimes you can ask for help, and receive it. Sometimes you can be honest, and hope for the best. My children are the best parts of me, evidence of a very true love. I am convicted that there are second chances. Even when they seem undeserved. I know that I am called to lead, yet wonder where and how I will feed my own self. I know that beautiful words can pierce a heart. I know that hard work sometimes pays off. I know that I love the way music bounces off the marble floors of a Catholic church where Episcopal transitional deacons are being ordained, I know the absolute joy I heard in their voices as they dismissed us, Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, they shouted, ecstatic, filled.
I long to be filled.
The air is cool tonight, and a friend who is far away out west will know what I mean when I say the lake smells, it smells of fish, it smells of possibility, it smells of fertility, and it smells of rain. My oldest is petting cats and casting cement blocks in the Dominican, my youngest curled up in her bed with a kitten and a polka dot blanket. My husband has walked miles and miles today and is not home yet.
I long to be filled.
I don’t want to be empty anymore.
Can you tell me where the water is?
I love you still.
There’s a rock that’s cleft and no soul is left
That may not its pure waters share;
’Tis for you and me, and its stream I see:
Let us hasten joyfully there….