"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

you are dust and to dust you shall return

In case you missed it today was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. As sacristan at the seminary, I spent this morning preparing for the worship service where the community would remember the fragility of life in the face of the gift of salvation that we will re-remember come Easter. We printed the bulletins on grey paper, I set up the missal, poured the wine into the flagons, took care of all the last minute things that come up and then mixed oil and water with the ashes of burned palms. And then as the serving party gathered and prepared to process into the church, I turned out the lights in the sacristy and left out the back door.
Partly, I was probably taking advantage of the remaining liberty to opt out of a liturgical responsibility while I still can. I've been busy looking for positions for after graduation (with some tentatively positive responses, thank you) and its really beginning to sink in, that someday soon, probably before Christmas, I will be a parish priest somewhere and I won't have the same ability to take a pass anymore. So, maybe the next few months are a kind of Rumspringa for me before fully committing to the life I have been called to and assented to live.

But mostly, I think it's that I don't really need to be reminded of the ever-present reality of death right now. I spend an hour or two nearly every weekend with the dead and dying. A couple of weeks ago, I attended seven deaths and a stillbirth in just under 30 hours and frankly it all kind of piles up emotionally. Now don't fret, I have people to talk to and decompress so my emotional and spiritual health is fine but my experience as a chaplain, even a part-time one, has brought me to a much more tangibly real experience of death than I'd ever known before. In a way, I think I will welcome Ash Wednesday in the future as a reminder to me of the intensity of the past year and a half as a chaplain and to honor the memory of all of those I've been privileged to be with as they die.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Do you feel ready?

I've been back in Oregon this week to meet with the people who control my fate as a priest. I am happy (very happy) to report that I have been approved. Of course, now begins the hard work of finding an opportunity to practice that ministry, though I actually feel pretty hopeful about that. But what's really on my mind is the question of readiness? Do I feel ready to take this on? Have I been adequately prepared?

I've worked at my studies, I know I've learned stuff. I've been involved in the parish, at school and at the hospital practicing and reflecting on the practice of vocational ministry. I know my perspective on the world and the church has shifted, my understanding of God is deeper. I even know how to fix a furnace and write a budget. I feel well prepared. However, I have no doubts I will flounder and make mistakes at the first church I serve as an ordained person.

Being here reminds of where I was ten years ago preparing for baptism. Was I ready? Was I a fully formed Christian? Of course I wasn't. My "faith" largely existed in my head as a philosophical proposition, my perspective was still focused on what God did for me and I felt I could take an a la carte approach, doing only what was good for me. I haven't fully and completely left that behind (I'm still a regular human, it turns out) but on the night I lowered my head over the font and the water flowed down my face I was willing and ready to make the commitment to being faithful even though there was still a long way to go.

Now, as I stand on the threshold of a new sacrament, ordination, I think I feel the same way. I am as prepared as I can be to make the commitment to living into the promises I will make in prayer that they may guide me and form me into whomever it is I am called to be. I hope I am a good priest, or at least not a bad one, but I promise I will try to be open to the movement of the Spirit that drew me in so long ago and that beckons me forward still.