Callings

On this third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican Church, I have been reflecting on the many calls within this rather particular Call. A prayer that was deeply meaningful to me in the earliest days of my discernment, has stayed with me, and been much on my mind of late. Found within the pages of a booklet given to prospective ordinands and written by Roger Spillar, it sketches out this multistranded, many layered call. Naming a few of the strands, Roger’s word pictures  spoke volumes to me then, and continue to do so.

So many facets within one vocation, so many different ways of expressing that call. Thankfully God doesn’t have a box marked ‘priest‘ he expects us all to fit. Fear of this potential box underlay much of my gargantuan struggle with God in the earliest days of my call towards ordination.  The church down the centuries has had many a priest shaped box, sometimes even ordaining people as priests and bishops against their will.. But God I was to discover, wanted me to be me. The me, he had created and shaped.

I could write reams on this, but today I will simply keep to the prayer.


Lord, you call us to be story- tellers

Planting your explosive news into our defended lives;

Locating us in the script of your human history.

 

 


You call us to be trail blazers

Living in your future that we receive only as a gift;

Subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.

 

 

 


You call us to be weavers

Tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads;

Gathering up unraveling, disconnected lives.

 

 

 


You call us to be fools

For Christ’s sake: bearing life’s absurdities and  incongruities;

Puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.

 

 

 


You call us to be hosts;

Welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;

Lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.

 

 

 


You call us to be poets;

Artists and illuminators of inner space


Naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.

 

 

 


You call us to be gardeners;

Sowers, cultivators and nurturers of fragile lives;

Benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.

 

 

 


You call us to be conductors

Celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony;

Orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation.

 

 

 


Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call

Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church

That in the range and diversity of our vocation

We maybe catalysts of your Kingdom in the world.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Amen. Amen.

Bearers of Light

Mary didn’t feature much in my evangelical upbringing. She was there, but a two dimensional figure who didn’t impact me. I knew nothing of the controversies that surrounded her in the larger world of the church, and down the centuries.

During my adult years my spiritual journey has led me to travel with Mary more and more. She has so much to teach me. Her Yes to God, changing her life forever and that of the world. Her life after that, as a mother, watching her son grow up, and pondering.. turning all these things over in her heart. As a mother standing at the foot of the cross, watching in agony, the way any mother feels their child’s pain almost more than they do. After the resurrection. I have mused in sermons about the possibility of that undocumented meeting. ‘Mother and Son reunion’, I can’t believe it didn’t happen. Almost certainly unwitnessed by anyone else. We will never know this side of Heaven, but prayerful meditative imagination is a powerful way of experiencing the Word.

I am in the habit of scribbling poems in my Christmas cards (although this has become a much greater challenge amidst the pressures of ordained ministry). I was delighted to discover that a much better poet than I, also started that way. U.A. Fanthorpe.( Look her up, she is well worth discovering.) I have blogged some of my poems (click on the titles for the links to those posts)   I have collected some of the more recent ones, to put together in one post, as I prepare to write a sermon for Advent 4 – on Luke 1: 26-38 Gabriel’s visitation to Mary. Pulling together some of the facets of Mary’s life and particularly THAT moment, which have paralleled my own call to ordination, my experience as a former midwife, and my own musings about reputation and the painful process of letting go of even that.

I will post them in chronological order of Mary’s life, rather than the timing of writing them.

The following was written the first Christmas at Theological college, as I was struck ever deeper by how I could ‘bear the weight of this Light’ that God had asked me to carry in calling me to ordination.

Aftermath of Angels

Who are you and who am I

that you should choose me?

Who am I now

that I have chosen

to say yes?

How can I bear the weight

of this light,

carry the child of your heart;

hold He who is Love

within the limits of my own?

Face down, I lay my head

upon the earth

hide me under the shadow

of your wing.

As you form Him in me,

shape me within your hands.

Knit my soul

to the fabric of your being,

Cradle us both

In your enfolding

and bring us to birth

encircled by grace

Surrender. Trust. Saying Yes. My journey towards ordination has been one of struggle. I put up a gargantuan fight when God started to ask me to consider this possibility. (Moses had nothing on my protestations) Her Yes was instantaneous. I now fully embrace my calling, but it was not always so. This poem reflects this stage of my journey.

She said Yes-

but suppose the answer had been NO?

and Heaven held its breath

as in that startled moment

a teenage lass

looked an angel in the face.

Cascades of questions

in tug of terror and of trust

as wide eyed in wonder

it dawned on her

the choice was hers

and hers alone.

yet the choice was not to choose

to surrender choice itself

taking the gift

God gives with life and breath,

to lay it down.

her Yes was all that she could give

took all she had

To hold the angel’s eye.

Let it be

to me as you have said’

and Heaven’s gate swung wide..

Mary’s Yes risked everything. Her engagement, her relationship with her family, her life. She could have been stoned for adultery. How do you begin to explain? How do you hold on to your self esteem and integrity, when you know the truth, but the world does not see it? I have had my own journey with having my reputation smeared and having to keep silent, knowing that God knew the truth, and that was in the end, all that matters. We waste so much precious energy holding onto our reputations when it can, like health or wealth or dear ones, be taken from you in a moment. Letting God guard it for you, is a much better way, that Mary modelled, and I am still in the learning. 

Scandal.

slip of a brown skinned girl

almost a child herself,

with some story about angels ( as if!)

and so the offensive smell of scandal

clung like dust to Mary’s skin.

You were an outcast

from the start.

A wrinkled nose and upturned sneer

barely hid behind hard hands.

Your birth, no less, a squalid mess

a foetid outhouse slum

the scrapings of a nowhere town.

What father this , who watches on-

while child of his, flees in the dark

a refugee from hate?

A Father whose love outstripped

the twisting coils of evil’s curse

and let his Son grow on

into the scandal of a cross.

Written from my experiences as a midwife and a mother, the following tries to explore the wonder and miracle of any birth, and the mind bending miracle of this particular one. Further thoughts on this, and Mary’s life can be found in my post Bringing Love where Love is absent

Upside Down Miracles

 

Exhausted, yet wide awake,

my body spent, yet every nerve alive.

we one have become Two.

He who lately stirred in me, moved

more than limbs, whose spirit sang

with mine, filling my soul with wordless awe:

now like a lamb, lies in the straw.

God’s perfect lamb…that shepherds knelt to see.

my tiny lamb…so vulnerable

that I would hide him from the fears that lurk, and

what the future may require..

Who then is he, whose soft breath on my neck

nuzzles me close, and with his

fingers in mine, I wonder with a kiss

just who is holding who?

This one isn’t specifically about Mary, but follows the theme of wonder, and the things she carried in her heart, as he grew up.

Incarnation

With the first cry of birth

A gasp of foetid stable air,

The Mighty Godhead came to earth

Likes naked in a hovel bare.

Fragile and helpless, he-

Whose incandescence fused the stars.

The humble shepherds kneel to see

Eternity behind Life’s bars.

No throne, no royal crown

Ahead for this celestial king.

To wood and nails he is come down,

Earth’s toil and tears his lot would bring.

A crib, a child, a cross,

Heaven’s mysteries are revealed;

Our gain would mean the Father’s loss,

By his wounds, our world is healed.

Written the Christmas of my second year of Theological college, the following emerged from a deep journey of discovery into the mysteries of the Eucharist. During that exploration I accidentally stumbled upon the notion of the priesthood of Mary, theotokos, the Christ-Bearer, something that wiser folk than I have written much upon, but which was so obvious once I had seen it. More of this can be found in my eponymous blog post, Holy Gifts. Again I am echoing Mary’s life with my own calling as a priest.

Holy Gifts

 

Taken

Chosen

A life lifted from obscurity

Held in hands that hefted galaxies

Hallowed by an ask

To sustain

The Word

 

Blessed

Given grace

To bear the weight of favour

Daughter of Eve,

Giving God a thankful heart

By holding His, within

Her own

 

Broken

Lanced by sword

That pierced Father, Spirit, Son.

Blood of her blood

Poured out for those

That clamoured for

His death.

 

Given

Her whole life

Offered on the altar

Of surrender

A readiness to be God’s Yes

Shared out to hungry hands

To feed a world

With grace

The following poem was written one Christmas when God was asking me to Go. To leave all that I had known and loved, within the church family of which I had been a part for most of my adult life. To step out into the dark. At the time it felt like a deep tearing. Heartbreaking. Looking back, God’s grace transformed that heartbreak into so much blessing, learning and growth. Every time He calls me once again to step out, I remind myself that ‘He who calls you is faithful’ and that His nail pierced feet tread at my side.

Sent

God said GO and He went

from all knowing to unknown

from unbounded horizons

to the confines of a womb.

God said GO and she went

from innocent obscurity to scandal’s

harshest stare. God said GO

and she went- full bellied from all

she knew and loved, to weary road,

that knew no place of welcome or of rest.

God said GO and they went

awed by angels, hearts racing their feet

towards the promise of a child.

God said GO and they went

they knew not where, but the call was all

their hearts could hear, and drew them on

when way was hard, and path unclear.

Bringing the best they had

they came to follow and to kneel.

God said GO and they went

out in the dark in what they stood,

exiles of a jealous king.

God says GO and will you ask

‘How far?’ Or know the route you tread?

Listen for the Child’s cry

to wake your heart to go

but travel with your feet unshod

for the Way is holy ground.

This morning, I discovered a beautiful, fresh angle on Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, and I could not finish this post without including the poem and the  link to the blog in which it can be found. Written by Jan Richardson on her blog The Advent Door.

What must it have been like for the archangel who witnessed Mary’s yes?

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment
I hesitated
on the threshold.
For the space
of a breath
I paused,
unwilling to disturb
her last ordinary moment,
knowing that the next step
would cleave her life:
that this day
would slice her story
in two,
dividing all the days before
from all the ones
to come.

The artists would later
depict the scene:
Mary dazzled
by the archangel,
her head bowed
in humble assent,
awed by the messenger
who condescended
to leave paradise
to bestow such an honor
upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you
it was I who was dazzled,
I who found myself agape
when I came upon her—
reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,
I cannot now recall;
only that the woman before me—
blessed and full of grace
long before I called her so—
shimmered with how completely
she inhabited herself,
inhabited the space around her,
inhabited the moment
that hung between us.

I wanted to save her
from what I had been sent
to say.

Yet when the time came,
when I had stammered
the invitation
(history would not record
the sweat on my brow,
the pounding of my heart;
would not note
that I said
Do not be afraid
to myself as much as
to her)
it was she
who saved me—
her first deliverance—
her Let it be
not just declaration
to the Divine
but a word of solace,
of soothing,
of benediction

for the angel
in the doorway
who would hesitate
one last time—
just for the space
of a breath
torn from his chest—
before wrenching himself away
from her radiant consent,
her beautiful and
awful yes.

– See more at: http://adventdoor.com/2014/12/19/advent-4-gabriel-and-mary/#sthash.iWh5qIBG.JyHMT2MA.dpuf

Only by the Grace

I read a quote in a recent tweet that said ‘Writing is easy. Sit down at a keyboard and open a vein ..’  it hit an instant chord, as I have often known the truth of that, but never more than with this blog post. Writing does sometimes feel like giving your life blood. The 1st of August- one month exactly since I was ordained, and although I have tried before, it has taken me until now to be able to stand back from that day enough to put some elements of it into words. A day like no other in my life to date, which I am still absorbing.

I woke early, with a feeling not dissimilar to the morning I got married. Butterflies of excitement, tinged with nerves. Such a big day, on so many levels.

It was a beautiful morning, and I stepped outside for a few moments of solitude, with just the sheep for company. The retreat house is situated in a very rural setting, in a beautiful secluded valley. The pastoral imagery of sheep/shepherd and the dual call to lead and yet always to follow, had been a very present one over the course of the retreat.  In the silence following morning prayer, the only sound was the distant bleat of lambs.

Know that the Lord is God. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture”                        ” Feed my sheep” Psalm 100 

A smooth 40 minute drive to the cathedral. I don’t remember much of what I was thinking, apart from being conscious of being in public in my collar, for the first time.  My emotions were very close to the surface, so it was much more about feeling, than thinking.

Some waiting, and then the solemn legal parts of the process, prior to lining up to process from the Bishop’s Palace to the Cathedral. The last few steps of a long, long journey, I would be stepping out of the cathedral at the start of the next.  The congregation were mostly a blur of faces, although I caught sight of a friend and her little girl as I started to process up the aisle, which delighted me, and grounded what was happening in the context of lots of dear people I love and who have shared this journey with me, being here to cheer me on.

I didn’t know where my family were seated (they had ticketed seats in a reserved row) but it was only about ten minutes into the service that I spotted them. Another jolt of emotion.

The service is a solemn one with a variety of symbolic components to it.  We were called forward by name. Presented by our Archdeacons commending us to be ordained. In my case the Archdeacon had been my attachment incumbent of most of my training, and a good friend, adding an extra dimension to the process. I had done a placement in the cathedral the previous year, and loved every minute of it, falling in love with the ancient building, and making lasting friendships amongst the whole variety of people who make up the cathedral’s staff. It had become a ‘home from home’, and being ordained in this second spiritual home was a deep joy.

The sermon was given by Revd Dr Alison Morgan, author of The Wild Gospel and A Word on The Wind: Renewing Confidence in the Gospel, who had led our retreat. She did an excellent job explaining to our families and friends something of this crazy calling God was asking of us.

Then the moment itself. Called forward again to be charged with the solemn task and role to which we were called, and asked to make a series of vows, to which we answered ” By the help of God, I will” . Something echoed by the Bishop in his next words :

In the name of our Lord, we bid you remember the greatness of the the trust in which you are now to share: the ministry of Christ itself, who for our sake took the form of a servant.. You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.

Words that need to be kept constantly in mind, as I step out on this new journey.

We then knelt  around the altar for about ten minutes of prayers, sung and said, before the Bishop came to each of us to lay his hand on our heads and confer ordination as Deacons upon  us.  Although kneeling in public, for those ten minutes it was just God and me, I was largely oblivious of anyone else.  The Bishop’s hands felt very heavy on my head as he prayed for the Holy Spirit to equip me for the work He was calling me to do.  Our incumbents stepped forwards to vest us in our stoles across our Left shoulders symbolic of our Deacon status, as servants of God and His Church.

The Ordination service is set within the context of a Eucharist and during the sharing of The Peace we had the first opportunity to greet family and friends. A deeply moving moment accompanied by many tearful hugs.

Coming out of the service was a surge of joy, greeting so many lovely folk who had come from far and wide to support me. It was overwhelming, and the day continued in a similar way as we gathered in my sending church for a celebration lunch. I couldn’t stop smiling. After all the solemn intensity, I felt like I was floating on air, with a heart brimful of thankfulness.

As a tiny child I sang an old chorus, picking up the words of a psalm, ‘ My cup is full and running over’ ,  little did I know then how full my cup would be filled, or why.