March 15, 2007

The last thing I remember is watching two tiny birds flitting from bush to bush: one would go on ahead, the other following a short time later, then the lead bird would move on again. I also recall a gekko navigating the wall behind a bush, and noting that the shiny, cloud-filled sky above was slowly giving way to the bright, sunny, and cloudless day it would become.

What had started as slow lava flow of memories, disappointments, and frustrations of my failed Massachusetts and Kentucky ordination excursions oozing out into my consciousness had turned into a toxic flow of emotions pouring out of my being, like some long-standing sore, never fully healed, being picked open after a long time.

Then, suddenly, I felt a strange sensation – the only way I can describe it as being enclosed in some kind of a “bubble”. Whatever it was, it’s effect wasn’t gradual, but sudden, and the birds, the gekko, and all my surroundings, while still there, were no longer there (if you know what I mean). Or maybe it was me that wasn’t there – or, rather, there, but completely removed from it. How to describe? It was almost a feeling of losing consciousness, except that I was conscious. And there, before me, almost as if someone had written it out on some white board, was the following:

To found a religious order where people could live and worship and serve God within the framework and construct of a religious community, yet still be able to live and pursue their secular lives, goals, and interests within that framework.

The words were not spoken to me, neither were they anywhere for me to read, but they were still as clear and concise as if someone had dictated them to me and I was absorbing them through taking notes. The atmosphere around me felt strangely compressed, and, more stunned than anything else, I sat there breathlessly as distinct information about this message continued to unfold in bullet-points, as if I were surrounded or immersed in some huge Tele-prompter:

* An ordained priest would be the spiritual head of the community, serving that community full-time under the direction and auspices of the Bishop;

* Individuals or families living in the community would be ordained as deacons in the Church;

* The location of this order would be in a city, town, or area viewed as needing an Episcopal (Anglican?) presence;

* The order would be housed in a previously-used school or church complex setting; less-desirably so, in a cluster of apartment building or houses with a central worship location;

* The life of the community would be centered around worship and community meals, but less strictly so than in more “closed” monastic settings;

* Daily worship would be modeled after the Divine Office, with a Great Silence and a daily Eucharist, but without the strict attendance requirements of a traditional monastic setting;

* People would support the work of the community by tithing a percentage of their income from their secular jobs;

* Outreach ministries would be closely aligned to the needs of the community in which it is located;

* Other ministries provided by the community could include things that assist and contribute to the overall well-being of the diocese and its parishes – for example, prayer, healing, discernment, spiritual counseling, and various skills and services that the people within the community already provide their secular employers.

I sat there, stunned. It was all there: in front of me, around me, in my head, in my consciousness. My first thought was, “I have to write this down so I don’t forget!”, so I ran into the house and into my home office and began scribbling what I had witnessed on a 8×11 pad of lined paper.

I was writing furiously, and had just about filled a full page when, in mid-thought, upon writing the words, “…to be able to know and articulate one’s calling years after the fact is both comforting, unsettling, and disturbing all at the same time”, I was struck by a powerful sensation that pulled me up sharply:

You need not write this down, as it was your calling and it will always be a part of you and your very being that you will never forget.

I put down the pen and, still stunned by the whole experience, walked directly back to the patio to collect my thoughts. As soon as I sat down in the chair again, however, I realized the “bubble” was still there, and I was once again “removed”, just as completely as I had been minutes before. Words seemed to be flowing through my head, but I also felt them swirling all around me. I sat there dumbstruck, taking it all in, as the words all began to slow down and coalesce around this simple message:

You’ve suffered greatly, but your time of suffering is through. Whatever successes you had no longer matter. Whatever failures you experienced no longer matter. What your calling is, was, or will be no longer matters. What’s PAST is PAST. There is no longer room or place for resentment or anger or bitterness or sadness or fear or melancholy or blame, only HOLINESS. For everything and everyone and every deed and every success and every failure and every aspect of your journey was HOLY and is HOLY.

Embrace with love everything that is PAST, because your calling was HOLY; therefore, everything and everyone that was ever a part of it is HOLY as well.

And with these words, I felt some kind of surge rush through my spirit, like a silent breeze or wind blowing through me. And suddenly, I felt a massive weight lifted off my spirit and my shoulders.

And it was over.

Slowly, the sounds of birds, wind chimes, and palms rustling began to fill my senses once again, but in a different, quieter way – as if the world around me was hushed. An airy presence occupied my soul, so much so that I felt I had lost 20 lbs. God’s Presence felt very near to me, in a way I hadn’t felt in years, but in a different way. There was no sense of urgency, no sense of exultation, or joy, or anything, really. Just an incredible sense of calm astonishment.

Then suddenly, a parting phrase:

Check your books.

I went back inside once more, to my home office, where a tall bookcase contains my religious texts and books left over from my journey (including, on the top shelf, the pile of flash cards left over from my Biblical Greek class). Since the library was unpacked 2 1/2 years ago, I can count the number of times I’ve even noticed or thumbed through any of these books – the memories were simply too painful. My eyes fell upon Michael Ramsey’s “The Gospel and the Catholic Church”, one of my favorite books from that period: dogeared, highlighted throughout, scribbles in the columns. Leafing through it, I could only smile as I fondly recalled how important it had seemed to me back then. I reached for the pile of flash cards that, through no fault of their own, had been such a major contributor to my undoing back in Kentucky. I looked at a couple, thought the memory of them to be almost comical, and carefully put them back. And it occurred to me at that moment just how much weight had been lifted off of me. My spirit had been cleansed – no, freed, from all the baggage left over from those years. I could breathe again.

I knew I had to tell someone, but who? I sat down at the computer and was in the middle of writing an e-mail to my friend Dona when Tracey walked in. As I tried to tell her what happened, I couldn’t stop tearing up, but they weren’t tears of sadness, or even, really, joy – just relief.

Because Tracey had to go into work, it was soon just me and the rabbits alone in the house with laundry and housework to do. Passing by the door to the patio, I put down what I was carrying and poked my head outside. The day was sunny and warm, and a soft breeze tinkled the wind chimes. The “bubble”, or whatever it was, was gone. I looked at the chair I had sat in no more than an hour – or a lifetime – ago, and realized I would never think of it again as just a chair, but kind of a holy place – or at least a place where something holy had occurred. Somewhat cautiously, I sat down for a few quiet moments, then got up. After all, there was laundry to do…

Tomorrow: Aftermath and aftershocks.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by at 00:30 | Comments (5)
  1. Dear Doug,

    I hope you received my response to your email. My silence since then has been due to becoming ill with some kind of very debilitating intestinal flu. I am reading “A Calling Revealed” with great joy and eagerly anticipate discussing it with you when next our paths cross. I will also write more when I have recovered. I loved your concluding statement, “After all, there was laundry to do…” That is brilliant! I am praying for you. Peace and love from your good friend Dona.

    Comment by Dona — March 15, 2007 @ 5:59 am

  2. I find it interesting that you live in Phoenix (ok, near it) and like the Phoenix, who rose from the ashes, your “rebirth” rose to a new life. My prayers are with you. The Psalm from today’s daily office was 42 and part of it is,

    “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.”

    Bless you where ever He leads you.

    Comment by Pete J — March 15, 2007 @ 6:34 am

  3. Thank you both for your kind words and thoughts. I did get your e-mail, Dona, and I am sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. You’re in my prayers for a quick recovery, and I too look forward to getting together the time I’m in the area. And, I will add the Jewish kibbutz concept to my research…

    As for you, Pete, thanks as well, but what would you say if was was living in Erie, PA or Bath, ME? 🙂

    Comment by Doug Richard — March 15, 2007 @ 8:09 am

  4. …BTW Pete, I seem to recall a Taize chant around Psalm 42 that was really lovely. I can’t remember where or when I heard it.

    Comment by Doug Richard — March 15, 2007 @ 9:32 am

  5. I would say you had an “erie” message from God or that perhaps you were “bathed” in the spirit! :>)

    Comment by Pete J — March 15, 2007 @ 9:40 am

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