Tonight I served for a small chancel Eucharist, and my dear friend surprised me by asking me to explain to the supply priest where I was in my own process. I still am not used to saying it, still not used to telling the truth, and I think I stumbled a bit as I tried to tell that wonderful lady where I am and how I got here. It’s a story that is so much larger than three minutes worth of soliloquy.
Two weeks ago I graduated, stood side by side by with my cohort and wondered if the Bishop would decide that he would use his own private handshake when he gave us our certificates (he didn’t, and I was sort of disappointed). I sat in a small chancel and fed tootsie rolls to a friend who had low blood sugar, I sang along and watched beloved clergy and faculty as they stood around the altar and prepared to serve us, their students.
The sun came through the window at just the right angle. I noted the differing stoles, I noted the differing postures, I watched mouths move in their own private prayer. When my turn came to receive one particularly beloved person placed the bread firmly in my hand and then had to find her composure again, blinking back tears. I am so grateful to fall into the category of beloved.
The kids came back to the school and wandered the halls, they wanted to see everything. They sat on the beds in my small room, marveled that I did not, in fact, have a TV, coffee maker and mini-fridge. They explored the bathrooms, the cafeteria, our small chapel and our classrooms. They asked if I would miss it.
And the answer is yes.
And the answer is no.
Almost four Augusts ago I walked unwilling into a period of formation I didn’t think I needed. I was in an almighty hurry, and I realize now that I usually am. And I realize now that I don’t need to be.
I walked out of the school for the last time and stood by the car waiting for my friends. I talked to a fat squirrel to avoid the tears I’d felt threatening all day and they fell anyway. The squirrel sat contentedly on ample haunches and chittered at me. I think I cried because I knew that we would never be together in just this configuration for just these reasons ever again. I think I cried as an ending to what was the most difficult period of my life. I know I cried in gratitude that somehow I’d managed to stick it out. I know I wasn’t crying because I would miss the food.
I was “invited” down a path.
It was dark and gloomy and it smelled like rain further in. It seemed utterly suspect and out of the way. Just let me stay on this sunny and well-beaten path. Just let me keep walking and rejoicing with these folks I CHOSE to walk with.
I took the path. I found my own grave among the pine carpeted forest. I saw amazing visions of myself with a glass IV bottle pouring who I was actually supposed to be into my veins. A former Presbyterian and a kick ass deacon and a man who is passionate about people and history stood together in black cassocks (bubble, bubble, toil and trouble) and they beckoned and cajoled. There was a late night conversation with my brother, me sobbing that I didn’t want to die, him sobbing back, you must.
There was Old Testament and New Testament. I actually heard a preacher refer to a Marcan Sandwich the other day and was so shocked I almost fell off the pew. There was good liturgy and bad liturgy and all of the learning in between. We lobbed some real stinkers of sermons at each other and were equally graced with messages that we could not take credit for. There was Henry VIII and Martin Luther, random Canterbury Tales in theology, wonderful vistas of different ways to look at every single thing with Fr. S in his fishing vest presiding – he who would insist upon love and justice but still say that he probably isn’t very good at those things.
Oh, the cool water of humility.
There were midnight club meetings, the election of new Senior Wardens for same. There was a bonfire, music, silly games, trekking the whole building in search of a lost room key, a bottle of wine with three wine keys sticking out of it, all of them broken off by the stubbornly set cork. There was Bohemian Rhapsody. There were snacks.
And so how to explain all of this to a woman I’ve met once five minutes before a service? There just isn’t an intelligent way, I hope she doesn’t think less of me.
You all, I am the same and I am not.
I am your sister and your mother, your wife and your daughter. I am your friend. I am still me. My sense of humor is still awful. I am sarcastic. I need a rubber band on my wrist to snap a hundred times a day.
But I am also a person who has chosen to die. I have chosen to let go the things that hold me back and hurt me. I have chosen to tell the truth, to dare declaration of what I hear, to tell it to you and hear you, really hear you, when you speak it back to me. I am a person who is most comfortable in black cassock #7. I am a person who finds God in a chancel and meeting the eyes of a person who is hurting as they tell me a long and sad story. I am worthy now of prayer, on your behalf and my own. I didn’t know these things.
I said, mistakenly perhaps, that this was just a job. I know that it isn’t. I know that it’s me stripped to my core, that it is a call and a vocation. I know that it will take over my life if I’m not careful. I remember still the warning from ALK – to not walk off the edge of the world.
And so I am grounded here. In my small house with its plaid dining room chairs and black and white cat. With my blooming girl children and their noxious pollen that makes me cry and makes me proud all at once. I am grounded now, by my work over the last few years. I am open and waiting.
Tomorrow is a funeral and another job interview. Tomorrow is another day of laundry and good books and doing the dishes and picking up the same eight things off the floor. Tomorrow is another day adrift from the academy. Left here in a sun dappled clearing to find my way back to the road where all of you are. I’m blinking and dazed, amazed that it’s over and I’m being set loose. But I’m coming around, getting up, beating my way frantically through the brush to you. To where you exist and hurt and weep and sing.
But friends, the call to transformation is right there in front of you, too. It isn’t in bible verses shouted by a politician to back up a despicable agenda. It’s in the very old woman who hurried up the aisle tonight after the service had already started to take her place in the pews. It’s in her not being able to keep track of the service and asking constantly where we were. It’s in bending to what is unbelievable and coming out the other side.
Like stained glass glory light, like the patchwork cloak that is full of my failings, and quotes from Father S and Dr. V’s tears and ALK’s wisdom. It’s in the notes I will gird my loins (heh) to sing on Saturday as I help you call down the holy spirit.
I love you still.
This is all spilled on the path before you, rocks and mica that sparkle and shine. You can pick it up too. Don’t believe the lies they tell, the things they insist don’t matter. You know they do. This isn’t just mine. This is yours too, I wouldn’t be here without you.