November 29, 2006

The talk radio was getting on my nerves almost as much as the lunatic drivers trying to weave their way through the return home, drive-time snail-trail. I thought about running in silent mode, but this commute was going to be a long one, and something that wouldn’t be too distracting to the senses seemed to be in order. Looking through the music I had stashed in my car for just such an occasion, I was surprised to find the collection of Gregorian chant and praise music I had made back when we lived in Massachusetts, during the period I was going through the discernment process for the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

One of the things I love so much about music is its transcendent quality – how a tune, or even part of a tune, can bring you back to a particular moment in time so quickly and intimately that one can recall feelings, people, and senses long since filed away in the subconcious and have them come back almost as strongly as they were at that time. And the feelings were strong as the soft music, and the range of emotions they inspired, washed over me.

What was really amazing is how long ago and how foreign it all seemed – as if it was someone else, not me, who all those memories and emotions recalled. I remember making the tape almost ten years ago, and with each piece of music came a different memory – traveling to and from the retreats I would make to Holy Cross Monastery and SSJE in Cambridge, or the weekly sessions with Don and Eunice Schatz at Life/Work Direction in Jamaica Plain (the first people to affirm my calling), or trips to Boston and the Cowley & Cathedral bookstore to pick up another Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen book, or the meetings I would have with the various priests and parishioners who helped me discern and focus my calling for the better part of three years.

After our move to Louisville, and during yet another unsuccessful three-year discernment period in the Diocese of Kentucky, I would play the music during the hour-long drives between Louisville and Elizabethtown, where my church was, and where my discernment meetings would take place, and trips between Louisville Presbyterian Seminary (where I attended classes part-time) and my job at UPS.

What I remember most about the music is how it served as a kind-of sanctuary from all the stresses and strains any person who has ever offered themselves up to the Church (mine was the Episcopal, I doubt other denominations are any different) to have their calls to ordained ministry of one kind or another discerned. And as I listened to the music being played, it felt strange to feel so detached from something that was once such an integral part of my life. For it was all still there: all the various obligations and hurdles I had to engage (and at times, endure), all the emotional and spiritual exercises – internally and externally – that became such a part of my daily existence; that strange combination of joy, humility, and terror I remember feeling at learning my calling had been affirmed by those charged with that task; the kind of anguish that only comes when one’s calling is rejected by your diocese and bishop – all of it, still there in my heart and in my head, but now so foreign as to make me wonder if it was, in fact, me who did all that, or someone else who had just borrowed me for that stretch of nearly eight years’ time.

The tape ended just as the traffic finally broke free, and I was once more in the present day – just another commuter heading home from work in the Valley of the Sun. In the quiet of the car, the thought occurred to me: as much as the life I’m currently living seems light years away from those spritually-intense days in Massachusetts and Kentucky, they’re also life years away as well. And there’s satisfaction in knowing that, not only have I survived, but in time have learned to come to terms with it all. For whether in the end I’ll be able to look back and say those years were worth the effort or not, they were nevertheless lived, and to their fullest. And even though I don’t feel like the same person I was back then, it’s somehow comforting to know that that person, and his memories of a time never to be experienced again, can still be found in the music on a cassette tape, played one warm November afternoon heading home from work.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:46 | Comments Off on Light Years, Life Years
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