March 16, 2007

“Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in various trials, that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom not having known you love; in whom, though now you don’t see him, yet believing, you rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory…”
— 1 Peter 1: 6-8

In the immediate hours following my “experience”, I knew something had radically changed both within and around me. I knew this not only from how I felt physically, psychologically, and spiritually, but also in viewing what had just occurred from a purely abstract, detached, and academic perspective – after all, I’d been on both sides of the discernment table, and therefore was quite familiar with the aspects and characteristics of genuine (and not so genuine) Christian calling and revelation (see the quote from the book “Listening Hearts” in the first installment of this series).

I knew what had happened to me was real, because a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I was able to “think spiritually” for the first time in years. I knew it was real, because my heart and spirit felt free, energized and transformed: if I had felt that, in the case of Massachusetts, it was they who had screwed up, or, in the case of Kentucky, that it was me more than anyone else who had screwed up (although there was plenty of blame to toss around!), I was at peace with that. True peace. For in the wake of what I had just experienced, the thought of ever trodding again over that desperate no-man’s land of the last 5+ years now seemed both useless and pointless.

I also knew that what had happened was real, because there was no sense of urgency associated with the “experience”. I didn’t even know what – if anything – to do with the information I had received, and (perhaps more importantly), it didn’t really seem to matter. It was what it was, and I remember thinking to myself that, were I to die that day, I could die in peace, knowing what the purpose had been for my life. There was a reason for my very being, a purpose behind my calling, and just knowing that was not only exhilarating, but humbling as well. In and of itself, it seemed good enough for me. And I still feel that way.

More than anything else, however, I knew that what had happened was genuine, because my calling now made sense. I can remember past conversations with others where I’d be “thinking aloud” – albeit in general terms – about this very kind of thing. For example: in conversations with Don Schatz, one of my spiritual counselors at Life Work Direction, back in 1995 and/or 1996. And, a particularly uplifting discussion in the library at Holy Cross Monastery with a female priest, in which she mentioned knowing someone on the West Coast who had had the same kind of idea. I can also now vaguely recall sharing this idea with others, too: possibly during my Cursillo weekend, most definitely while attending the 2-week Church Development Institute programs at Sewanee back in the summers of ’97 and ’98 – something, BTW, I now find particularly interesting, as it seems this whole thing started with memories of those CDI days at Sewanee strangely occupying my thoughts upon waking Saturday morning (cue music…)

The point is, it’s now becoming pretty clear to me that the underlying purpose behind my call to ordained ministry in the Church (at least to the extent it was revealed last Saturday), didn’t just come from out of the blue – it wasn’t as if, say, God was suddenly calling a plumber to be a nuclear physicist (not that plumbers aren’t intelligent, BTW, but you know what I mean…). The seed had always been there, but, for whatever reason, I had never been able to (or cross paths with someone who could help me to) put 2+2 together, or connect the dots. Why that was, who knows? But I have to believe this particular calling could not have been revealed to me on Saturday without it already having been planted or imprinted somewhere in my spirit at the moment of my calling nearly 13 years ago.

“So keep still, and let Him do some work.” — Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

The next two days following my experience were filled with surprises and what I would call “aftershocks”. Just as the days following a major earthquake are filled with increasingly smaller and less intense shocks, so too were the two days following my Saturday morning “experience”. That afternoon, I busied myself with housework – doing laundry and cleaning the rabbit cages in a spirit of quietness, amazement, and inner peace. Later that day, I had to go to the supermarket, and, as I was driving there, a very intense “mini-shock” lasting a few seconds hit me – the words, “Don’t forget strip malls!” (adding to the list of possible locations where the religious order could operate, I surmised) injecting themselves into my consciousness.

That same evening, completely out of the blue, I received an e-mail from my old friend Diane, an ordained priest who worked in Kentucky the same time we lived there. We hadn’t written or spoken since I left Kentucky in 2002, but for whatever reason, on this very day, she happened to think of Tracey and me while passing along the following prayer:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let His presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us. AMEN!

OK, I’ll admit, that was weird. Even by my standards. Even after what I had been through earlier that day. Freaked Tracey out, I can tell you that.

On Sunday morning, while taking my shower, the same kind of thing that had happened while driving to the supermarket the night before did so again. This one wasn’t quite as powerful, but its effect was enough to give me pause. The words said simply, “Write a white paper!”. That’s all. “OK”, I said, to no one in particular, “I’ll write a white paper”. But here again, the message seemed both given, and received, without any sense of urgency, and with a sense of great inner peace.

Then, starting Monday, I began experiencing what I can only describe as “threads of clarity” flashing before me. Less forceful and intense than the Sunday morning shower episode, they seemed somewhat different in both texture and purpose (if that makes any sense). The one primary difference was, they were persistent. One kept reminding me that the purpose of the order would be to worship God and live and breathe as a religious presence wherever it was physically located. OK, fine. Another indicated it was to be a model for similar communities that could be established in the Church by other like-minded priests and individuals. Made sense to me. And a third seemed so persistent that I felt I had to write it down:

This would not be a life for everyone, neither should it be. But it would be a way to attract those who: a) feel a calling to some form of “religious life”, yet are unable to meet the typical requirements of a monastic order, and b) those who desire a more intimate relationship with a religious order than simply that of an “associate” [Ed. note: someone who affiliates themselves with a monastic order through financial and spiritual support, and occasional retreats. For example, yours truly is an associate member of the Order of the Holy Cross], yet still wish to retain a certain amount of freedom to pursue their secular interests to the benefit of the Church and needs of the local area.

So where to take this calling from here? Well, like I’ve said, there seems no great sense of urgency, no (as my good friend Dona puts it), “marching orders” – at least not yet. There is, however, meditation and praying on this calling to do, a Church to return to (at least to some extent), and no shortage of research to do: after all, there’s a “white paper” to write. It’s an intriguing and exciting, yet humbling, activity to look forward to, especially since I don’t know its intended recipient(s) or audience!

No matter where this ultimately ends up taking me, however – if anywhere – I am now at peace knowing what my calling to ordained ministry was all about, and, most importantly, at peace with the journey that has brought me to this place in time. If anything new and exciting happens, I’ll post on it in this space, but it could be awhile – maybe never, maybe forever. Until then, may you all, in your own particular callings, come to know Jesus’ peace and blessings, and God’s love and mercy in your lives.

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