Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sometimes It's Like This

Well, I flunked out of church today. Maybe that's the best way to say it.

Maybe I just don't go to church often enough to do so easily and simply, without a lot of "reactivity" (an insightful word that David supplied as I tried to debrief on the way home). I wish it were simpler for me to be there--like, couldn't I just go and enjoy the parts I enjoy and let the rest roll off my back and come home reasonably content, instead of leaving in tears and either wanting to break something or to bash my own head against a wall? (Don't worry--breaking something appealed to me a whole lot more that the head against a wall thing!)

But it seems in order for going to church to be simpler, I have to REALLY WANT it to be so, and then to follow up that wanting with showing up with a bit more frequency than once every--hmmm, how long since I last went to church?

OMG, as they say, have I actually not been to church since . . . Easter? I'm really not sure. Let's see: for the record, I have been to three memorial services and an Evensong in these intervening months.
(Oh, and believe me, I can feel the total shock and horror of some of my clergy friends and former parishioners.)

Good thing I don't believe in being banished to hell for skipping church, because in terms of "the due celebration of Sundays" I am without doubt an infidel.

Perhaps I need to say a little more about my flunking out of church this morning, the tears, the complexity.

I actually thought I was doing pretty well, remembering to call myself back to a centered place when I felt a lot of rebellious stuff brewing internally. (Maybe that is part of the problem; maybe I ended up kidding myself that I was letting things go when in fact I was stuffing them in and building up a battle within.)

The internal stuff isn't all bad; at least it lets me know I'm alive. For me, with today being All Saints' Day, the internal brew was a mixture of this day when remembering people who have died is in the air. I was remembering not only my father, and David's father, and my cousin Lola, but also a bunch of others, too, including my friend Sarah's father, whose memorial service was just last week, and my friend Anne's mother, who died just before Easter. That's a lot of remembering for one small part of the morning.

And then there was the un-ordination thing, which crept up on me in an unguarded moment when I was receiving communion, and I looked at the hands of the person giving out the "bread" (if you can call those stupid, lifeless communion wafers bread), and I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was, and it is no longer something that I do.

And I actually really enjoyed that part of being a priest--not so much saying the Eucharistic prayer in which the priest invokes God's blessing on the bread and wine--but the giving out the bread part. That part is so refreshingly, thankfully tangible and concrete (all the more so when the bread that you have to put into the hands of those receiving it is actually some form of bread, with substance and nourishment, flavor, texture and scent--something you can actually sink your teeth into!).

So in a flash I remembered all of that and experienced a fleeting pang of maybe missing it, of maybe something akin to grief, and then the subsequent challenge a feeling the grief and letting the grief be grief without turning it into evidence that I made a big mistake renouncing my vows and giving up being ordained. To stay with the pang of grief, to breathe into it and ride the wave of it--that's probably all I needed to do but wasn't quite able to manage, although I did pretty well for a while.

And then, after the organ postlude, bless his tolerant heart (I mean that--he has lived with me for twenty-two years after all!), David mentioned to me that I had bad breath, and instead of riding the wave, the wave came crashing down on me. And in kinda junior high-ish fashion, I blubbed something like, "Sometimes it's hard just being here, and I guess I'd better just leave" and I fled the scene as tears brimmed again, barely speaking to the usher in the doorway on my way out, and not stopping to shake the Dean's hand, either.

So here's the thing, or a thing anyway: you know back up there a few paragraphs ago when I said, about giving out communion, that "I remembered in a flash that I used to do that, that it was part of who I was and is no longer what I do"? Here's what I noticed as I wrote that; here's a truth worth remembering for the next time this happens, since there probably will be a next time.

Yes, I used to do that handing out of communion; yes, I used to enjoy that, too. It was part of who I was, not only as a priest but also as a human being, and it is still part of who I am. It will always be a part of me.

Yes, I have taken off the shirt and collar* (and that reminds me, what do I do with the vestments?), and I have chosen living free over death in holy orders. And yet those years of being a priest, those moments of connecting with people's eyes and with their outstretched hands as I gave them bread, all of that is woven into the fabric of who I am now. I can be grateful for those years even as I know that I was often not sure I belonged in that role, even if I often wondered what it might be like to be free.

*About the shirt and collar: I've been savoring a comment that my friend Sarah shared with me not long ago. (I believe it was shortly after her father died, and she and I were talking about the fact that if I were still ordained, I could participate in her father's memorial service in "priestly" ways. I was feeling a touch of regret that I couldn't be there for her mother in that way, and Sarah's response was unequivocal: "Thank God you're not still ordained!") Sarah was for many years and is no longer a church organist. She told me that when someone says to her, "You could always brush off your organ shoes and play again," she replies: "No, you don't understand. Those shoes aren't even in my closet; they went out in the trash."

Done. Finito. Fare well.  Gone but not forgotten. Amen (which means, so be it.)


  1. This is a post that I could read over and over again. I feel the strength and hard-won wisdom in your leaving one role and entering another one, and in your very honest reflections and ambivalence at times. It seems all good to me: nothing is ever wasted.

  2. Gail, thanks so much for your own piece of wisdom: "it seems all good to me; nothing is ever wasted." I agree, though it can be hard to remember at times!