Saturday, June 17, 2006

Am I ready?

I am to be ordained this afternoon. Am I ready? Andy and Jane (my abbot and abbess) say so. The Lindisfarne Community says so. But the knot in my stomach still points to the abivalence, the ambiguity of divine encounter. Am I prepared to bear the mysteries as a servant on behalf of the people of God?

In my proposal for the Fund for Theological Education fellowship program I wrote the following definition of the ministry of the deacon to which I still hold: "I have a gift of being a reconciler of division. This is the understanding of the diaconal function of ministry in the church. The ministry of the deacon is a ministry of service, and service always has reconciliation as its goal, whether reconciliation between people and God, people and people, people and themselves, or people and their own existential situation. The office of reconciler requires several qualities if it is to be effective. First, the reconciler must have a kenotic quality such that his/her own personal interests do not interfere with the goal of the reconciliation of the parties involved. Second, the reconciler must be able to exercise holy listening, such that all parties are given the opportunity to fully express their position and are able to recognize that they have been heard. Also, the reconciler must have an intention of embrace, which involves crossing over into the various positions of the parties, such that the inherent sacredness of each person is recognized, before crossing back to the kenotic state of openness. Last, it is important to recognize that reconciliation is an extraordinarily delicate process with a high probability of breaking down at many different points, and so the reconciler must be able to sit with the knowledge that s/he may be viewed in a negative light if reconciliation is not successful."

Can I live with this? Can I live with the awesome responsibility it entails? Do I have these qualities in sufficient measure to live up to the calling of a deacon?

Thankfully, it is only partly my responsibility to answer these questions. To a large extent it is out of my hands. In an email to the Lindisfarne Community a few months ago I wrote, "I don't want to be ordained.? Ordination, as I understand it, really has very little to do with the person being ordained.? Ordination is exercised by the bishop(s) on behalf of the church and is a recognition, by the church, of the particular gifts (charisms) of the person being ordained that make them uniquely suited to be bearers of mystery.? The discernment of call is certainly something that the individual being ordained must be involved in, but ultimately is up to the community.? Augustine never wanted to be a bishop.? He tried to run away from it.? But in the end the church collared him (pun intended), carried him in kicking and screaming, and consecrated him anyway!? In my own case, I certainly have had what I feel is a profound and clear call experience, but the emphasis for me, in terms of discernment, is on its confirmation by the church.? In my case, I first offered my call experience to my parents, with great fear and trepidation (they were, after all, in the process of paying for me to go to a private college for four years where I was working toward a degree in music), and their response was something on the order of, "Well DUH!"? Same thing from my church at home and with friends at school (I wasn't part of the Lindisfarne Community at that point).? I repeat, I do not desire ordination.? Holy Orders are not taken, they are received, again with fear and trembling, from the hands of the church.? It is not up to me whether or not I will be ordained.? In a profound way, it is up to the rest of you, expressed by Andy and Jane."

It is my responsibility to be open to the working of God. This is a new stage of life, a new stage of being for me. Am I ready? Or perhaps more pointedly, am I worthy? In the prayers before the distribution of the elements at the Eucharist in the Lindisfarne Community we pray, "Savior Jesus, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." It is a prayer of deep trust and committment and conviction as we turn over control to one who has power to give and power to take away. Am I worthy? No, of course not. But I am worthy as God makes me worthy. Thus, the question is not, "am I worthy?" but instead "am I capable of such trust and committment and conviction that I will lay aside my own will to be molded to the model of Christ?"

One of our meditations is a prayer by Charles de Foucauld which says (edited), "Father-Mother, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will, whatever you do, I will thank you, I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, as in all your creatures, and I'll ask nothing else, my God. Into your hands I commend my spirit; I give it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, my God, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, with a trust beyond all measure, because you are my Father-Mother." I have prayed this prayer on the sixth day of every month for the past several years now, but today it has special meaning. Today is the culmination of a process of kenosis, self-emptying, so that God may "do with me what [God] will."

There is comfort in the fact that members of the Lindisfarne Community all pray this prayer on the sixth day of every month. The individual I of the prayer, for us, is the communal I of the community. They stand with me today, praying for me and pledging their support. They are ready in spite of me, and will be there for me when I fail, which I surely will. And yet there is a deeply personal process of metanoia, of converison, of an ontological and existential shift. There is a setting apart, a distinction that is made, a line that is drawn that cannot be undrawn. I will be marked by God through the symbols presented to me by the community and by the laying on of hands by the bishops. There is something akin to baptism in ordination; an entering into the abyssmal waters of death to reemerge a new being. And there is no way to know what stands beyond the doorway through which one can never return. No one can describe what it is like on the other side, any more than anyone can describe bathing in water to someone who has lived their entire life in a desert climate, where water is scarce and presciously rationed. I walk across the threshold in the presence of the community and of friends even as I walk through it alone.

In the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 139):

O God, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O God, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Where God leads me, I will follow. This is where God has led me, to a cottage beside a lake surrounded by family and friends and my community. God is here. Into your hands I commend my spirit.

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