March 30, 2015

I’ll admit, Holy Week is tough for me. It’s the time of year I feel most the connection between God, my soul, and my Christian faith – even when that connection seems as tenuous as it feels this year. I’m more convinced now as ever before that I was meant to be a monastic. Not as a way to escape the world and to run away from the decisions I’ve made in my life, but because it’s part of (if not all of) the calling I feel in my soul, what God is or was or always has been calling me to do.

It ought to be said up front that I’m perfectly capable of being happy in my present situation. I’m happily married, have a job that I’m both good at and well compensated for, and have an enjoyable life here in the Valley of the Sun where you don’t have to shovel snow and on any given day of the year one can walk to the mailbox in lounge pants and bare feet. I never get tired of sunsets or late nights on the back patio with a glass of Pinot Grigio and contemplating life and my on-going to-do list amidst the quiet of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” subdivison life. And I’ve got a wonderful family and great friends who, while far away, are never far from my thoughts.

That being said, there’s “soul stuff” going on that Holy Week somehow brings to the fore each year. Twenty years ago I heard and felt God’s call to be a priest, and for the next ten years I pursued that calling from Massachusetts to Kentucky, and finally here to Arizona without any success. It was hard sledding at the time and for a time thereafter, but I came through it OK. Throught that time, between the Episcopal Church and a couple of semesters at a Presbyterian seminary I saw how the Church works internally. It’s a fascinating business, though not especially kind to those who sense they have a calling but are not able to articulate it in a way that speaks to ROI (return on investment) to the bishops and the powers-that-be who decide those who get in and those who don’t.

A religious calling is a funny thing, because at some point the rubber always hits the road and the Church has to make the tough decisions about the kind of people they allow into the process for the priesthood and those who don’t. I still remember a night back in Kentucky getting a call from a guy who had been turned down for the priesthood. I didn’t even know him that well, but he must have thought we were in some ways kindred spirits and I listened to him pour his heart out for the better part of two hours as his life-long dream had been dashed by way of a letter – the same letter I would receive a year later. On the surface, he seemed to have all the qualities the Diocese of Kentucky was looking for in priests. After I hung up the phone I knew that if he didn’t have “the right stuff” to be accepted I was in a world of hurt.

As the years have gone on I’ve had a chance to think about things and have come to realize that the bishops of Massachusetts and Kentucky were probably right in their deciding I wasn’t called to be a parish priest. Which is not to say I couldn’t have been a damned fine priest and better than 90% of the people that got in based on their connections, gender, and sexual orientation, because, in the end, the Church is a flawed business and that’s what (especially in the Episcopal Church) it all comes down to.

As I’ve grown older, it’s the monastic life I realize I’ve always been called to. The calling that everything you are is focused solely on Jesus Christ and the Cross, and the work of God to whatever purpose you were put on this earth for. And Holy Week is a reminder that the monastic calling is something that will have to wait until the next life. As hard as it might seem, to become a monastic is not the easiest thing in the world to do, nor, I guess, should it. For one thing, coming late to the game as I seem to have always been, no monastic order is going to take someone over 50 unless they come without any baggage and with plenty of do-re-mi to cover the inevitable health expenses that come with the territory. There’s the “God side” of being a monastic and there’s a practical side which is something you can’t avoid in this day and age.

Sure, I could “play monastic” by living my life around the monastic life at places like Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, but let’s be real: either you’re part of “the in” or you’re not. I could, I suppose, go through all kinds of calisthenics to work a spiritual life around my work life, but it’s not practical. So I choose to live my life as I do, seeing the spiritual amidst the material, living my life in the material world while recognizing that little calling inside that always seems to surface whenever Holy Week comes around.

This Holy Week I think I’ll try and read a little Thomas Merton, someone who has always been close to my soul-person. Merton was as much of a reality mystic as anyone, someone who always struggled with his monastic calling and ultimately found it too confining for his perceived calling. And maybe, had I chosen the monastic route earlier in life, I would have found the same sense of being boxed in, confined to some orthodoxy and rules of Order. But it’s something come every Holy Week I wish could have been different from the road I have traveled, and something I know I should have been given an opportunity to pursue in one fashion or another.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:46 | Comments (2)
  1. I have always admired your spirituality and how you live that in your day to day life. You have a kindness and caring that make you a wonderful friend. Something the world needs more of.

    Comment by Jana — March 30, 2015 @ 4:44 am

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Jana. But you should know from our time spent together how you’ve influenced my spirituality. I’m far more open to the ways in which God’s love enriches and influences the world in, shall we say, less-than orthodox ways. Pursue love and truth in all of its manifestations and let God sort things out in the end, I say. And you’ve had a lot to do with that. I thank you.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — March 30, 2015 @ 8:38 pm

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