Reading Rachel Carson’s The Edge of The Sea it feels like a new kind of prayer book. Especially while sitting on a rock, on a island, off the coast of Maine – it is a mystical experience. It feels like a new church. A new Bible.
The Celtic church of Columba and his friends imagined Jesus wearing two shoes – one is the creation and the other the Bible. This kind of thing makes my Roman Catholic friends nervous. One senses anxiety about pantheism. Perhaps ecclesial charges and a public burning on heresy charges. There is little more exciting and invigorating than righteous indignation. And little more sad when the whole thing is a mystery. I am not a pantheist but I am an avowed penentheist. Burn me. Go ahead. Charge me. I am used to it.
When people get absolutely sure of things related to God I get the giggles and that infuriates the very churchy ones even more. It becomes possible to see the veins on they necks. Their right eye twitches when they try to set their ribbons.
The church was, at one point, absolutely sure that the earth was the center of the universe, willing to torture and kill to make its point. One wonders what else the church is “absolutely sure of” and of that, how much will turn out to be true. I know. I know. Its a slippery slope. We need to maintain standards. Creeds. Dogmas. But do we really? Need Mary have been a virgin? I mean really? What if Augustine’s theology of human depravity was a bunch of hooey? What if women do not bleed as s sign that humans are evil? It was a bunch of hooey. Augustine needed a hug, a therapist and rather more breastfeeding than he probably got. Mind you, I guess so did I.
Where did that man go, the one I was in my twenties when I was so vigilant about the church? Where is that man who swooned over Anglican anthems from Saint Paul’s and Westminster Abbey and got righteous about “right worship?” What happened to the man whose terrible insecurities needed props for a flagging self esteem; props like titles, vestments, clerical shirts, crosses, impressive libraries, hierarchy? When I look at pictures of that man, me, in my 20’s and thirties I see a man who, with a little less education would have just as easily chosen the army or for that matter, the Taliban – anything that gave me a tribe, a group, a place in which to belong – a place with titles up which to climb like a ladder’s rungs…aspirant, postulant, candidate, seminarian, curate, priest, canon… The nice thing about Bishops or Generals, Presidents or Chief Surgeons who dominate their underlings, is that they provide us a place, a womb, confinement – a kind of imprisonment which feels a lot like safety. But isn’t.
I am a different man now. I wish I had had all this therapy and suffering before entering the priesthood. One wonders what choices I would have made. Who I would have become.
But today I sit on a rock looking out into a vast ocean. The gulls cry as if they can see God from such a height. Angels and fairies walk among these rocks, peeking out at me and giggling, wondering alongside me, with me, “What will he do next?”
I think what I will do is sit here in the twilight and celebrate the transition of the day the way I am trying to celebrate the transition of the life I am living. I am choosing earth, sea and sky as my new cathedral. I am choosing friendship as my new ministry. I am choosing honesty over hierarchy. I do not, for a moment, regret any portion of my life. I loved being a missionary in Haiti, a seminarian, a monk, a parish curate, a parish priest, a Bishop’s canon and even a cathedral canon. I liked the stationary. I liked the titles. I loved the salaries and the open bar at conventions and conferences. I liked feeling part of an army of Christian soldiers. I liked the perks – a gardener, a maid, a nice menu at an Episcopal conference in a five star hotel. But I no longer believe the world needs christian soldiers, let alone an army of them. And what I want to be a part of is hung with seaweed, not frontals – moss, not vestments – trees, not pillars – flowers, not candlesticks – big rocks, not pews – drinking buddies, not Bishops, six-hour dinners not six-hour sermons.
I loved the church’s “pomp and circumstance” but nowadays I find I am choosing much less pomp and rather more circumstance. I want to spend my time on beautiful land and with people who suffer from the lack of a home and with friends who do not project their expectations of “priest” onto me like a move screen. As I read about Jesus and try to keep Him as my model, I see a man who made the same choices – lead where they will and cost what they may.
Let these final years be less about pomp and much more about circumstance.