The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Palm Sunday: In spirit and in truth

Posted by Ron George on March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday procession, by Romare Bearden

Palm Sunday procession, by Romare Bearden

The day began as a downer but — and I really need to stop being surprised at this — has come alive with joy.

We watched a DVD last night that ate into my soul, “Capturing the Friedmans,” a documentary that tells of a family sundered by an astonishing charge of pedophilia and sexual abuse against a respected school teacher in Great Neck, N.Y. It was made poignant by scenes from the family’s large archive of 8mm and video recordings. The bottom line: Fissures in this family were of long standing, but public scandal seems to have left the family fractured beyond repair. It set my teeth on edge. It was not unlike reading a passage of scripture that cuts to the quick and leaves one wondering what hit him.

I went to bed last night wondering whether I’d spent too much time worrying about what a lousy priest I’d been when I should have been more concerned about having been a lousy father.

My gut instinct was to flee, but that’s never been the right thing — not then, in 1982, when I ran off the rails as a priest and father; and certainly not now, when I seem to have been given some understanding of the state of my soul as both. I went to bed wondering not only whether I wanted to find myself in church on Palm Sunday but whether I ought to abandon the doctoral project altogether and find a more appropriate place for myself at All Saints — like in the back row, far as possible from the altar, beating my breast and begging God’s mercy on my overshadowed soul.

This was one of those “big hump” Sundays for which I’ve asked a particular person’s intercession every Sunday. She’s a soul friend, and we’re not especially close as friends, but there’s a resonance in spirit that led me to ask her personal intercession in this matter. Turns out, she said, I’m not the first priest in crisis for whom she’s been asked to pray. (This kind of thing no longer surprises me, but I can’t help but be amazed.) There’s always a “Sunday hump” to get over, if not for all at least for this displaced priest. There’s a hump because of the displacement, the sense that your place is at the altar even though you’ve been removed from that authority, responsibility and joy. Having once been set aside for the limited purposes of Christian-elder ministry, you find yourself someplace else, so near and yet so far from the instrumental grace bestowed at ordination.

(Elders are not better than but other than laity, having had the Spirit invoked upon them and been made into something, well, peculiar. I guess all Christians are peculiar in some way. Elders are peculiar in this way — we celebrate Eucharist, we pronounce the church’s blessing, we absolve sin in the name of God as Trinity, we function in certain ways that have become part of our ontology by grace. We cannot be “undone” from this way of being. When we’re deposed, it’s from our positions of authority in the church, but not even the church can undo our being set aside and blessed by God as elders. Hell of a fix to be in, trust me.)

I remember my soul friend every Sunday as I’m getting dressed and ready for church. On big-hump Sundays, that remembering is a hard, difficult thing. I almost wish, as I did this morning, that I’d never asked for her prayerful concern, because it’s made me accountable in an immediate and practical way, not to her but to God through her, sacramentally, as time and energy spent upon my cause — but that’s the point, isn’t it? God rushes into that vacuum of feeling, taking over the emptiness of my commitment, almost literally animating my listless soul and dragging my complaining body to church. Thank God it’s not like that every Sunday, but that’s how it was today.

I have no idea when it “turned around.” I gathered with a few folks for a class before worship to talk about a book, and I was blessed to the core by our discussion of discernment and how it’s operating in the search for our new rector. Then came choir rehearsal and worship — Palm Sunday liturgy, within which I lost myself in our tradition and the immediacy of our appropriation of it. I was honored to be a reader and chalice bearer today, and that may have been providence, as is often the case. I was blessed by feeling called to these purposes and made capable by God’s grace to fulfill them with all that God has called me to be. It’s as close as I ever will come to experiencing the fulfillment of my vocation as an elder, and today was an especially joyous expression of that.

Where I most felt it, though, was in the reading by one of my soul friends in the choir, who narrated the Passion and through whose voice I heard She Who Is, God my Mother, She Who Broods over us, calling — sometimes howling — over the deep interior of ourselves in Spirit and in Truth. The only descriptive phrase I can imagine is one of Charles Wesley’s, that I was “lost in wonder, love and praise.” There came, then, another moment of truth: As I walked the rail, I was touched by so many who paused to look back at me and say, “Amen,” to having received the Body and Blood of Christ. There may have been a single degree of difference today in how I administered the chalice from the many times I had done it before, both as priest and as lay Eucharistic minister, but God rushed into it and led me to a deeper connection with others at the communion rail than I have had, or can remember having, ever before. (This is an articulation of my experience this morning that I have just this moment realized.)

What changed in all of this was my perspective, and I hope, someday, to have a handle on its meaning. For now, my guess is that having been a lousy priest or a lousy father is not the issue, but where am I willing to let God lead me now. My hope is that it will have something to do with priesthood and fatherhood, and that God in Christ will redeem these meaningful categories someday, somehow — and if not in the here and now, then perhaps in the forever that is whatever is eternal about me and those who are most precious and meaningful to me, my family and my church. I hope it is true that we’ve been given all time to realize and fulfill that which we have been given to do and may have failed to do in this world but not the next. Whatever and whenever that next world may be, we are privileged and empowered by Christ to know and to do here and now what God deems most beneficial to the moment.

As I said: Someday, I hope to have a handle on what it means.

Someday.

 

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One Response to “Palm Sunday: In spirit and in truth”

  1. Stevn U. said

    My brother in traveling through your thoughts you have reminded me of seeing a t-shirt that really jumped out at me it read
    Fishers of Men
    We catch Them
    God Cleans Them!!!
    We were caught you and I a time ago but the Cleaning well I’m finding that is the real journey…in my heart I know that God sees us traveling thru our frustrations,shortcomings or lackings as we perceive them , and at times I’m sure I see HIM shake his head as he quietly says you have it all through “Grace” all we have to do is figure out how to accept it. I find it hard at times to quit beating myself for the past,and then the realization comes that as long as I do that I’m truely not listening to God’s call.
    All my Love

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