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

Beauty for ashes

I am not and alas, probably never will be, a linguist. I  do try whenever we travel, to learn a few basic words in the language of the people we are living amongst. Thank you, being the most important word. . ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱
in Greek. I must have said it ten or twenty times a day, these last couple of weeks.

A regular reminder of living life with eucharisteo at the centre. Whilst re- examining the Eucharist at college, theologically and spiritually, (see ‘bringing love where love was absent’)  I stumbled upon a book that I am still being formed by.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp was one of those books. A book that shook me, shaped me and challenged me to my core.

A mother of 6 and a farmer’s wife, Ann writes poetically of her journey towards the spiritual secret of thankfulness. Receiving everything from God’s hands with thankfulness. The good, the bad and the ugly. She does not gloss over heartache, brokenness and pain, but learns to find ‘the treasures of darkness’ amidst it all. Her journey was not a new one to me, but the way that she expressed it, spoke to deep places in me and connected.

‘”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift, and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelops the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy. Ah … yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about- that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception… All try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”  

I breathe deep, like a soujourner finally coming home. That has always been the goal of the fullest life- joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three- letter word, joy, can be. “
… I longed for more life, for more holy joy. That is what I was struggling out of nightmares to reach, to seize. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? I look back down to the page. What was this clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo– the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long… Wondering .. Is it that simple?
……eucharisteo, the Greek word with the hard meaning and harder meaning to live- this is the only way from empty to full. ‘  (From Chapter 2, a word to live..and die by of One Thousand Gifts.)

Holidays. Time apart, to mull and ponder. To breathe. To wonder.

Santorini is an island that has literally risen from its own ashes. Always an island of intense beauty (an ancient Phoenician name for it is Kalliste meaning ‘ most beautiful’), it is, nevertheless, beauty born of fire.

volcano

It has a moulten volcanic heart, that is still active. Over 3000 years ago, it was peopled by sophisticated Minoans, who lived in 2/3 storey, elaborately frescoed houses, with piped water and plumbed sewerage systems , to name but a few of their accomplishments. They prized beauty, art, and sport, and traded far and wide. Their seemingly idyllic existence (there is allot of speculation from some scientific & other communities that it may have been the fabled, lost Atlantis, as described by Plato) came to an abrupt end.

After a series of earthquakes, the volcano blew in a cataclysmic explosion that was off the end of the scale of those in recorded history. The centre of the island collapsed into the depths of the sea, leaving a caldera of 1000 ft high cliffs towering over the Aegean Sea that now fills what was once the heart of a round island.

IMG_2372
The land that was left, was covered metres and metres deep in volcanic ash. Unlike Pompeii, 1500 yrs later, there were no bodies left behind. The partially uncovered port city of Akrotiri, is a ghost town. Its citizens left it seems, in the nick of time, taking everything of value with them.

Akatiri
That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The Phoenicians found it, several centuries later and re- peopled it. The ‘most beautiful island’ was a very different form and shape, but it was just as beautiful.
Beauty for ashes.

Isaiah 61:2-3 NIV
 … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. …

The island has reinvented itself many times since then, and the wind, and the fire of the volcano are still re- shaping it.

Pumice cliffs

Visiting this island has been a timely gift, ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱ . A feast of beauty, that has fed my spirit. I have had necessary time away to process, in particular, the most recent ‘becoming’ – my ordination as a priest.

I trembled under the hands that ordained me. Like the tremors of an earthquake, I felt the ground beneath my spiritual feet shifting.

In my experience, when God is at work – it isn’t always comfortable!
In fact, it rarely is.
The book that I took on pre-ordination retreat with me,                                                 Spirituality and the Awakening Self, The Sacred Journey of Transformation, by David G. Benner PhD, speaks of this type of experience.

” It is possible to experience a profound reorganisation of the very foundations of our identity, values, meaning, and consciousness. It is possible for our whole perspective on life- on ourself, on others, and on God to shift dramatically.” Everything becomes fluid or molten. Scary stuff.

I have quoted the following poem before, in Light in the Cracks. It expresses this same thought, beautifully. (The author’s own explanation of the poem is included in that post)

This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.
 

SkyFall. The words of the theme song to the latest Bond film, sung by Adele, keep repeating themselves in my head. I can’t quite make out its meaning, or even it’s connection with the film, but it could have been written for Santorini on the day that the sky did, indeed fall.

I read about those long ago Minoans and my imagination travels with them. Feeling those first temors. Then more. Gathering up their lives, and sailing far from all that was familiar and known.

“This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together”

A later verse connects on a deeper level, yet.

“Where you go, I go
What you see, I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand”

Shifting paradigms. Moving further into the unknown, on this journey of becoming.             I may not know where I am headed or have any idea of the shape God is forming me into, but I know that I am surrounded by His love. That he stands with me, and will help me face whatever that process of transformation involves.

Eucharisteo. Gift. Grace. Thanksgiving, even when the sky falls.

Becoming a priest allows you the immense privilege of presiding at the Eucharist.                 The heart and centre of faith and encounter.

A mystery, about which the more I know, the less I know.
The book I took on holiday with me is called Take this Bread: A radical Conversion, by Sara Miles
I think I thought it would be an easy read.                                                                                      God, however, had other ideas. Another of those books. (do you ever wish God would let up on you?)

Back to the meaning of eucharisteo. Becoming broken bread, and poured out wine.

bread and wine

I will have to let God continue his challenges to me with that one, and perhaps blog further about it, when the dust settles…

In the meantime you might want to read any of the three books I have mentioned, yourself. If you dare.

They come with an earthquake warning.

Called by name

ov7c6947_med

Somewhere, under those very many, outstretched hands, is me.

It is a picture of the moment of my ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church. Under those hands, I was trembling like a leaf. A precious, holy moment, that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It still makes me tremble to look at the photo and remember. I hope it always does.

The next day, I was given another awe-filled, humbling privilege. I presided at the Eucharist for the very first time in the church in which I serve. It was an immensely moving occasion. I had been given leave to put the liturgy, readings and music together, and friends and family all took part. My husband, who is a Reader, preached. His words last Sunday morning, are what follows.

eucharist

“The gifts he gives are that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers, (why?) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11

A few years ago the driving test had an additional part added to the theory test, referred to as hazard perception, the skill to look ahead and see what might happen in order to take avoiding action…

I think I may fail this test.
A few years ago now, I married a gorgeous nurse, who became a midwife, and then a mother, and then a palliative care nurse, but (as we have sometimes joked with each other,) we certainly didn’t see this one coming all those years ago!

And yet, it has always been the desire of both of us, to serve God in whatever way He wanted us to do. It can be quite scary to abandon ourselves completely to God’s will.

Yesterday Ruth reached a mile stone on the journey. A most significant moment in time- the end of a long journey, the fulfilment of a calling, but just the beginning of another journey, whose route and course has yet to be revealed. However, we do know that He who has called, is faithful and true, and will see this through to completion.

Today we celebrate with her, as she for the first time, stands as God’s representative to consecrate bread and wine into Holy Gifts of Christ’s body and blood, and shares these spiritual gifts with us. She will then stand as his representative in calling God’s blessing onto us.

Ruth choose the readings today very carefully, as they reflect her journey, and as you can see there is a clear link and theme between them.

Jeremiah 1: 4-9

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,

‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.

Psalm 139 : 13-18

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.
Ephesians 4: 11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Mark 9: 33-37

Who Is the Greatest?

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

But as we look at these more closely, I want us all to realise and take on board that what I am about to say applies to us all. Some have been called to the priesthood, some to a whole variety of other things. It is important for each of us to seek and know, that we are fulfilling that to which we have been called, as ALL HAVE BEEN CALLED.

The first two readings could be summarised in the following words;
known, formed, called, consecrated, (set apart), prepared, anointed (equipped).

Ruth has shared with me the sense she has of knowing this was what she was meant to be. God has known this, and of course known her, from before she came into being. Her life to this point has been a time of preparation, walking along a prepared path, right and fulfilling , but points on a road, and not the destination.

path-2

Like any journey, some bits are easy going and some are very tough, and we want to give up, we get major set backs, we doubt, we want to turn back to safety and security.
What is important for us to know, is that this journey for any of us is not unaccompanied. God is with us, beside us and like that poem ‘Footsteps,’ sometimes we are carried, but don’t know it.

The calling of Jeremiah, also shows us how none of us can do anything without the anointing and empowering of God the Holy Spirit, any of us who preach will tell you that almost every time we get up to preach we ask
“What am I doing? Who am I, to be standing before God’s people and preaching?

And the answer is always very clear.
“Because I have called you and anointed you to preach my words, I have put my words in your mouth”

The problem of calling is that we all have choice. we can choose to accept that calling, but of course we can say also say no. The ‘no’ maybe for all sorts of reasons- we only need to look at Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah to name but three, who wriggled and wrestled said “I can’t do that, sent someone else”
There can be a host of reasons why any of us may turn away from our true calling and purpose.

Lets go back to preparation, what I referred to previously as ‘the journey’. This can be long, hard and frustrating. I promised to not to say how old Ruth is, but the journey has been..shall we say, a while…
Was the time before this, wasted? Absolutely not. It was all part of preparation and all part of the priest that is now with us.
I was struck forcibly by the screamingly obvious point, that Jesus, the Son of God waited for thirty years before his ministry started.

What was going on in his life during those years? We know very little, other than a few glimpses- a twelve year old in the temple, for example, but we can be sure he was being prepared for the right time, of what was to be a very short ministry. Clergy often say how brief a curacy is, ‘what can you do in three years?’
Well, Jesus did quite a lot!
Known….formed…..set apart(consecrated)….called(choice)……prepared…..anointed (equipped)

Then comes two more highly significant points. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.. you know the sort of thing.. “Is it the Rector, or the Archdeacon or ..perhaps the Bishop? ”

Jesus makes this profound statement, which was the foundation of the Kingdom, an upside down principle of power and authority.

Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all, and the servant of all.
The servant King who was the Son of God, yet  he washed his disciples feet, the job of the lowliest servant.

The call to service in God’s kingdom must surely be that of being the servant of all.    The greatest is the least.

baby hand

To come back to where I started, in the reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus…

As a doctor I have always loved Paul’s illustration of the body. We all, as individuals makes up the body of Christ, and like the human body all the different bits have different functions, but all are important for the health and function of the body.

I have always had a little chuckle at the arrogance of doctors, I was taught at medical school that the tonsils had no function, along with adenoids and appendixes for that matter, yet we now know they serve an invaluable role in teaching the immune systems to respond to a raft of infections, and the body, whilst it can function without them, is not quite as good as it was with them.

I have realised every bit of the human body is important, however small and seemingly insignificant, and if we don’t know what it does, it’s only because we haven’t found out yet. So it is with the church.

Every bit of the body has a function and purpose, and plays a part in the whole, and it is no good trying to be a different part of the body. Imagine if the ears suddenly thought ‘we would like to be toes’. We would have a lot of trouble walking, let alone trying to hear when we had shoes and socks on!

So, God has given that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers. This list is,of course, for illustration and is not exhaustive.

As we celebrate Ruth reaching this fulfilment of calling, and the beginning of the next part of the journey, let us all ask ourselves and ask God:

For what purpose have I been known, formed, set apart, called, prepared and equipped? And where on that journey am I ? Do I have no idea why I have been formed? Do I think so little of myself that I can’t see God has any purpose for me?
Have I been called, but not responded?

What I am sure of, is all have been called, not all have responded, and all of us are still a ‘work in progress’ .

Are we ready to seek God, for our calling? Are we ready to be called off the road we are on, onto a completely different one? Or are we ready to stay on the road we are on, even if we don’t want to be on it?

The body has many parts, some seem to be more prominent and important than others but ALL parts are essential for health and proper function of the body of Christ.

As Paul says, this calling is to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Today we celebrate Ruth’s journey from beginning to now, watched over throughout by her (and our) loving Heavenly Father. We commit her to God, continuing that journey with her, knowing He is faithful and true.

Let us also pause and consider our own journeys and our own calling, and listen together as a body, the body of Christ.

‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are, the privilege of a lifetime is being who you really are.’ E.E. Cummings

I pray that our prayer today would be;

Lord here I am, wholly available to you. Take me and use me as you choose, for your purpose and for building up your kingdom, as I find and function in my place as a part of the whole body.
Let me always be a servant of all.

Becoming who you are

Potter's hands

The Potter’s hands

‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. The privilege of a life time is being who you are.’ ee cummings

Being and becoming. Key words that have been rattling around my head of late. We describe ourselves as human beings, and yet there is a deep sense in which we could be called human becomings. As Dr David G Benner, in his blog post The Journey of Human becoming and develops further in his book Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation, 

                 ‘Being human is a journey of becoming’ 

That journey is one that is life long, but it not simply a progression in a linear fashion through time. As Dr Benner expresses it- ‘time is necessary, but not sufficient’. He goes on to say ‘The Spirit of God- the source of all generativity, all creativity, and all life- invites us to participate in the grand adventure of becoming. Openness to becoming, is openness to God.’

Henri Nouen explores similar themes of discovery in his book Life of  the Beloved– a journey of knowing ourselves loved in every cell of our being. Becoming the Beloved.

My own particular journey of becoming has in recent years, been that of a journey towards priesthood. One week today, I will go into a time of retreat and guided reflection in preparation for being ordained as a priest on Saturday 29th June. In Rounding the Last Bend, and Stepping Stones, I reflected this time last year, on the final stages of ordination training and the journey towards being ordained deacon. One year on, and I now approach the moment of becoming who I believe God is calling me to be. Becoming who he has been fashioning me into over the course of my life time.

Although it feels like there will be a deep sense of completion, it is not a question of arriving. I am still on this ‘grand adventure of becoming’ that is God’s constant invitation to me.

The picture of the chalice being shaped, is the front of my ember card. I chose it because it sang to me of the need to be pliable in the hands of the creative Potter who is fashioning me. To let him use all the circumstances of my life, past and present to form me as he sees fit. This particular lump of clay has wrestled and fought those hands, vigorously resisting this call to priesthood. (You can read more on this struggle in Where is your Home?)  Yet all along he has simply been calling me to be me. Shaping me into who I am. Borrowing an alternative analogy I used in an earlier post, Born to Fly and related to the name of this blog, I was born to fly as a feather on God’s breath. No more. No less.

I started with a quote from ee cummings, a particularly favourite poet of mine. I’ll close with another..

may i be i, is the only prayer- not may i be great or good, or beautiful or wise or strong.” 

May I be I . Amen and amen. May I have courage, grace, openness and trust to become. To go on being and becoming.

If you can add your prayers to mine for this significant moment of transition, it would mean a great deal to me and you have my heartfelt thanks.