A Non-Bloggers, Blog

What do I do? It’s a question that seems to be ever evolving as I move through these last weeks of being a full time clergy person, something that is becoming a bit rare given the current climate of our culture. My mother, at age 95, always tells me that time goes by so fast and yes, she is right, but if time didn’t go by then where would we all be? Stuck, that’s where. We would never grow, never learn, never take the chance to love and to be loved. I know that my life will take on a new dimension and I also know that being a retired priest does not mean not being a priest, it just means that I will now have to focus my energies elsewhere.

It is all about discernment, of listening to the still, quiet voice in the silence of my heart. It means that if I want to write, I mean, really write then I need to go deeper than I’ve ever gone before. I need to plum the depths of my feelings that seem at times to be all over the emotional map. It also means actually sitting down daily and writing, which is where I tend to get sidetracked. There is always something else, some other thing to be doing and before I know it, I’ve lost another day to trivialities that could have been handled at a later date. That, and staying away from social media, the great time sucking divergence that, as far as I can see, holds little redeeming social worth. Sure, some postings are good, and yes, there are some positive aspects to social media and what is out there, but overall, it just sucks the life out if you’re not careful,

So as I write this, trying to be conscientious in developing a writing habit, I’m wondering, what do I write about? Basically, I write whatever seems to show up in my head. I just put words to paper, in this case to my iPad, and go from there. Sometimes I post this drivel to my WordPress page, my attempt at being a blogger, while sometimes I just let it sit here and fester. To be a blogging sort you have to have an angle, something that is at once witty and yet, provocative. A blog that grabs the attention of a few who then pass along your stuff to others thus creating a following. I know that I am far from being all that interesting and I truly have no angle, all I do is just write what I feel and then let the chips fall where they may. However, is that enough?

There is more to every story and more to every person, the challenge is to let those stories out and see how they take the light of day. Will it grow and be fruitful or will it shrink and die in the harsh glare of the critics eye? I did get a compliment from a writer, someone who is actually published and now teaches at Grub Street in Boston, who said that I do have a story to tell. So I will write that story, I will share bits and pieces, I will lay myself wide open to the opinions of the critics, good, bad or indifferent. After all, growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and to not take this chance to write, well, then I may never know and that would be the real tragedy.

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The Dash Between

Walk through a cemetery, slowly. Gaze at the various grave markers, take note of the person’s name, the date of birth the date of death, look around, see what offerings have been left by others. The gravesite tells much if we are really attentive, we get to know who this person is, those bits and pieces of offerings give us a glimpse into their life, when they once roamed this planet, when they were fully alive and present. Between the birth and death there is a space or a dash, that small part represents all that person was and did, how they lived, loved it represents their hopes and dreams, the pain and joy, all that life brings.

I have done plenty of funerals, have seen many gravestones and read about those who lie beneath the ground. Some heroes, winners of medals and adulation from a grateful nation, some mothers who sacrificed so much for children and grandchildren, some husbands who once stood as the providers for their families, all once living breathing human beings. The space, the dash is where their story lies, it is in that place where we find discover their true self, it is in that space where we discover ourselves.

Memoir is mining the dash, going beneath its surface and diving deep into those memories that have made us who we are, and will be the legacy we leave. I am coming now to the end of another period of life as retirement lies out there on the horizon. I have been a priest in the Episcopal Church for over 26 years, I have served my current parish for 17 of those years. I have made many mistakes, I have suffered depression and felt defeated, yet, I have also felt great joy and love. I have experienced the full spectrum of the human condition, witnessed birth and death, held the hand of one facing great struggles, watched as others have turned their backs and walked away. My heart, has been filled to the brim with joy and broken also by great heaviness, a sense of failing not just the people I serve but the God whom I have given my life over to.

Vocation is a calling. It is answering the call to follow and follow I have done. Not the most perfect of followers and definitely not one of those bright shining stars that populate the universe of clergy. I have been the person whom God created me to be, I have tried, failed and tried again and through the trials and tribulations I have grown to love these people whom I have lived with. Last Sunday was Easter and it will be my last Easter here in the place I am. As I looked out at the congregation, knowing many only come once or twice a year, I saw so many stories and each one has touched my heart. The teens who I held in my arms so many years ago, pouring water over their heads as I baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing them into the community of faith. The families who I sat with as we watched a beloved member die, as we stood at the edge of the grave, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was hard, it will be hard, to say good-bye, to bid these people farewell, even now as I write this I feel the clutch in the throat, tears on the edge of my eyes, remembrances pouring out.

My own dash, the space between birth and death, is where I am now being called into, to write, however imperfectly, about this life. If anything, I write this for my grandchildren and those who will one day walk into some graveyard, stare down at a stone with my name engraved on it with a birthdate and death date, and that all important dash.

Coddiwomple

Coddiwomple

(v) to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

It just had to be,

this journey we’re on

I can’t say it was meant

to be this way

but faith is about

the roads we travel

even when it grows dark

and doubts creep in

as we wonder

where it will all lead

it’s never been clear

no roadmaps, no guides

only our feelings

that are more like mist

that is at once there

and then gone

leaving us feeling full

and yet empty

so now we say goodbye

each on their own journey

toward a new destiny

holding onto the memory

of what has been

dreaming of what will be

realizing that faith, hope and love

the greatest being love

a treasure held within

our own fragility

is what we share

as we travel forward

into the unknown.

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.