April 2, 2006

We’re closing in on the end of Tax Time 2006, and last night was our annual scheduled “tax inferno”, when we burn all our various credit card receipts from the past year. It was a lovely night – not a breath of wind – and the boat drinks were going down cool and easy. After we had burned our way through every single sales slip, mortgage refinance offer, and “no payments through 2050” credit card offer, we turned our attention to what else might make good fodder for our humble little bonfire. Since Tracey was opposed to me tossing in our living room furniture (and anything else I might consider as an unnecessary connection to the material world), my attention turned to our home office file cabinet, where I proceeded to pull out a whole bunch of 1994-2000 travel brochures we had taken along with us in out move to Arizona – perfect, I figured, for maintaining the blaze we had started.

And that’s when I saw the folders for “Ordination Process – Massachusetts” and “Ordination Process – Diocese of KY”, and knew then what I should do.

It was time.

The folders in question were from 1995-2001: a period of time very intense, very focused, very unlike anything I should ever experience again. It was a time when I was so sure of my calling to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church: a time when I enthusiastically and willingly offered myself to the various convoluted processes and, to be frank, bull$hit, that anyone who feels called to Holy Orders in the modern-day Episcopal Church must subject themselves to. It was a time of ecstatic highs and fearful lows: a time where I saw far more of the Church and its internal workings than I should ever want to see again, but one I would never trade for the world. For it was during this period of my life where I learned far more about myself – what I would be willing to subject myself to, and how much of my own self-worth I would be willing to compromise to anything or anyone – than I could ever have learned otherwise.

I had kept these folders for a while now, though any practical application of their contents had long since passed. They had accompanied us from Massachusetts to Kentucky, then back to Massachusetts, then all the way here to Arizona, all the while an unseen and unheard (and unwelcome?) whisper of a time spoken of only after cocktail-fueled reflections, and then in harsh and bitter recollection from Tracey, who never really understood the power plays of the Church and how badly the spouses of ordination candidates are affected when things that once seemed so certain go awry.

I figure it must have been at least 6-7 years since I looked at their contents in anything other than a dispassionate way, but, cracking open a Sam Adams and leafing through their contents – letters from Episcopal priests, Methodist ministers, spiritual advisors, various friends and supporters, college transcripts, seminary applications, personal statements to diocesan commissions on ministry, etc. – I was struck with the deepest sense of melancholy. What, in the end, did it all mean? What was its overall purpose? How could all of the hopes, dreams, and positive energy contained within those documents been all for not, a waste, a pathetic exercise in futility?

One of the letters in particular captured my attention: it was a letter of support to Bishop Shaw of Massachusetts back in 1996 from my good friend, the Rev. Alexander (Hendy) Webb. Now, if you knew Hendy, you would know that letters of that kind were not something one obtained easily – he was just that sort of person. Holding that letter up to a mirror and gazing at the person for whom that letter had spoken so glowingly of so many years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if that person had, in fact, ever really existed. And if he had, had he become nothing more than a relic of some past time, someone who would be always be spoken of by former friends and colleagues in some quaint past tense, as if he had somehow ceased to exist?

It was then that Van Dyke Parks‘ lyrics from Brian Wilson’s “Heroes and Villains” (from the Beach Boys aborted “Smile” album) popped into my head and seemed to fit perfectly everything I was feeling:

I’ve been in this town so long that back in the city
I’ve been taken for a lost and gone,
An unknown for a long long time.

Fell in love years ago with an innocent girl
from the Spanish and Indian home of the heroes and villains.

“There’s no looking back”, I thought to myself. Everthing’s gone to $hit.”

l tossed the folders into the fire.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:18 | Comments Off on Dreams to Ashes
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