Sacrifice

Coming to worship
in expectation
yet,
what is expected?
Fire in the soul?
Words of deep peace?
Solace for a troubled mind?
Coming to worship,
not to give wholly,
but seeking only to take.
Bread and Wine
remind us
that sacrifice
means
something has to die
even as we live

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Stories are Everywhere

I’ve been sitting here, staring at that blinking cursor and blank white screen trying to figure out what to write about. Do I write a piece of prose, a bit of nonfiction or fiction, do I write a poem about a tree? There are millions of ideas that float across my mind and like a school of fish they slip past quickly before I’ve had any chance to grab even one. Stories are out there and stories are within, the trick is to start digging away and just write what you see and damn the consequences.

Stories come from our everyday experiences, those seemingly small moments that we don't think are very important but when we begin to unpack them we see something of ourselves. Yesterday I had one such experience, a connection made with a man named George. George has been hanging out in our church yard, using the picnic table to have his breakfast and coffee. George is one of those characters that seem to gravitate toward the church. They are lost, lost in the world, lost in society and lost within themselves. He’s not a dangerous person, he’s not unintelligent, he’s just lost. That is something many people just can't wrap their heads around, that here is a man, who is educated, seems smart and yet can’t seem to find his way. Yet, here he is, struggling. In his mind, in his lostness, he is wrestling with God in his own wilderness. The spiritual struggle some of us go through as we seek our place in this craziness called life.

George and I have now spoken several times and with each conversation another layer of his complex personality is exposed. That he was married, that he was a lawyer, that he had gotten involved with a fundamentalist religious group, and with their blessing went over to Europe to begin a ministry of house churches. Along the way he lost his purpose, he lost his wife and children to divorce and he may have even lost his connection to family and friends.

I sit here, a conduit to God’s grace, a conduit that is in itself flawed by my humanity. I sit and listen, I can offer no quick fix, no special prayers, or some magical incantation, I’m not a Shaman or a mystic, I’m just the person God created me to be. There are stories to be told, to be written down and shared. Stories of our common humanity, of our need for one another, not just when things are going great, but also when we are traveling along a darkened path. Life is a struggle and for some, like George, it is a greater struggle. That is why we need to share these stories because if I were to I be honest, if we were to be honest, there is a bit of George in all of us, that small, scared child who fears what is under the bed or the monsters lurking in the dark closet. Our lives are connected in that mystery we Christians call the Incarnation, the Divine Presence of the Word which called us into being out of the dust.

Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece, because there are moments when it is easy to get oneself lost. I know there have been those moments, when the darkness of my own mind has overwhelmed me and I found myself struggling to find the path. I don’t believe there is not one human being alive who has not faced their own dark night of the soul, who have wondered about the choices they made and the consequences of those choices.

I read something yesterday stating that what anyone writes is not something original, but mainly a reworking of age old stories. Stories of love, of death, of growing up and coming of age. We all have those stories in the deep well of our memories and it is my task to dip into that well and draw upon those deep waters. Some of the water will be sweet and fresh, and some will be brackish, but it all comes from the same well.

I can say with complete confidence that I am no genius. I struggle with my grammar, I’m unsure of punctuation and word usage, but at least I’m willing to expose these thoughts to the world. Creating anything, whether it is a piece of art, a poem, a story, even a life, requires taking a risk. It’s all too easy to sit on social media posting someone else’s words, it’s something else to post your own. Maybe it is because in taking a moment to try and see the world through the eyes of another, I have been granted a gift and that gift is these words that I write.

Keeping the Faith in the Dark

I’m out of place

in the wrong time

in the wrong world.

My life barrels along

yet no progress is made

I seek comfort in words,

but only find a blank page.

Prayer is my hope

but the words are dry

no miracles this day.

The pews are empty

the people scoff

come down from your pulpit

that cross you bear,

they all say.

Even the faithful

mock my every move

we’re too busy 

to listen to you.

I try each day 

to recall those words

the ones I heard

in the silence of my heart,

when you sought my life

and called out my name

even if I wasn’t smart.

So I followed you

dropping my nets

along the shoreline

and into the wilderness

I walked,

that lonely path.

You are the Way,

the Truth and Life,

how can so many

prefer death?

The nails are hammered 

the sound loud on the coffin

of the life I’ve chosen.

I believe, I cry!

Help my unbelief.

Now there is only silence

as I listen for that voice

in the depths of the darkness,

leading me to the light.

Priestly Prose

As a Priest I straddle between two worlds, spiritual and material worlds, trying to preach a message two-thousand years old in a time of anxiety, where anything said or done is subject to being thrown back in your face. Don’t be too political, that’s not your place and don’t tell me to live by a message of love and grace, it cramps my style. No, just give them puppies and kittens, rainbows and unicorns, a few jokes during the sermon to make them smile, then demurely sip tea at the afternoon ladies gathering. After all I follow a homeless man, an itinerant Rabbi, carpenter by trade, who tells us to turn our cheeks, to give up everything, to carry our cross and to love even the unloveable, and that is called the Good News. 

Anamnesis 

Candles are lit 

the altar hung with green

the Chalice and Paten 

entombed under the veil

on the table rest cruets of wine and water

the Ciborium is filled with bread

a small candle burns above the tabernacle

Christ present in this place.

I look out at the people

some are sitting, 

some kneel, 

others stand.

There was a time

when the priest stood with his back to them

now I stand there face to face

a sea of humanity waiting to cross

into the promised land

yearning to know God

in the simple gifts of bread and wine.

The gifts of God,

for the People of God.

The mystery of Word made flesh

an offering made for us all

as I intone the ancient words

the centuries are brought together

the living with the dead

sharing the bread and the wine

the anamnesis complete

of hearts seeking God’s gift.

My Priestly Life

It’s early in the morning as I sit there in the darkened church, the only sound coming from the ceiling fans as they continuously stir the air. There, in the pew, I close my eyes concentrating on each breath that I take, a slow inhale, an even slower exhale, calming my body, as I empty myself of life’s distractions. Slowly, I feel my own heart slow down, my mind becoming less burdened by the myriad of thoughts that litter the mind scape. Here, in this place, at this early hour I am alone with God, seeking to find the words to write, the prose and poetry of my life.
 I am a Priest, an Episcopal Priest, to be more accurate. Prayer, meditation, time alone, is for me, the way in which I spiritually feed the dryness of my own soul. In this postmodern, post-Christian society that we live in, this may sound a bit crazy, or at the very least, some form of mental illness. Living in a world that is constantly on the move, constantly connected with various technology, the idea of just sitting in a darkened church, praying, seems eccentric. In many ways being a priest today seems to be a bit eccentric. As parishes of all denominations slowly shrink in terms of congregants and resources, in an era of increasing secularity and of the so-called “spiritual nones” being a priest, minister, rabbi, is slightly counterintuitive. Yet, here I am, praying to God, asking for guidance, seeking to live up to my ordination vows as I navigate the dangerous waters of today’s church. 

 Being a priest means entering into the very earthiness of life itself. Engaging people in all of the stages of life, from birth to death and all of the messiness in between. We are dust and in the dust is life itself, the very term human comes from the root word humus, the dark, rich soil where seeds lay buried to one day spring forth into life. It’s a life of deep intimacy, where we, as priests, are invited into the most private areas of human life. I’ve held newborns, some struggling to overcome great physical obstacles, and blessed them with Holy water as I baptized, young parents standing by with tears in their eyes. I’ve held the hand of older people, as they took their last few breaths asking God to watch over their souls as they passed through the portal of death. I have learned over the years that there is a sensuality to being a priest, where not only our intellect is engaged but also all of our senses. We touch, we see, we smell the incense as it rises to the rafters, our hands breaking the bread and touching the chalice, the gifts of God. I place the small piece of bread into hands, hands that are calloused from hard work, hands that have held a baby or wiped away the young child’s tears. In that moment, our hands touch and connection is made, that piece of bread God’s conduit of grace and love, through the Body of His Son.

Vocation

I’m a priest

or so it says on that fancy certificate

hanging on my wall.

Not a prophet

although that is implied

no healer

but expected to heal

I stand before critics

all who have their own opinion

of what I should do

how I should act 

even, how I should dress.

Yet, into this madness

I was called to serve

not to be perfect,

to be human

to fall then get up

to fail and succeed

to stumble in the dark.

Maybe I’m insane

for doing this work

for believing, having faith.

Tears have been shed

hearts have been broken,

my own included.

Yet, I am a priest

not because of a certificate

or a fancy degree,

I’m a priest

called by God

to serve, the unservable

to heal, the unhealable

to preach words of faith

in the messiness of life.

Maybe I am insane

or just a tad mad

then again, 

so were the prophets

dressed in camel hair

wandering in the wilderness.