The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Life after deposition

Deposition of Christ, by Evie Hone

There is life after deposition, a phrase that came from the bishop who has authority over my case. In one of the more rewarding conversations of my life, he counseled me some years ago to “put the burden down.” We prayed, and he encouraged my exploring a ministry of spiritual direction to deposed clergy. If nothing else, he said, you can let them know that there is life after deposition. I hadn’t asked him then to be restored to holy orders. Wasn’t an issue. I did ask three years later, though, and he declined.

I don’t know why, really, but it has had a clarifying effect. There is life after deposition, and I’m living it. I’m living in a diocese other than that from which I was deposed, and I have received a lot of encouragement in pursuing lay ministry. I’ve focused on spiritual direction and teaching, and I’ve found that there are paths for fulfilling one’s call to service in the church, even though sacramental ministries are no longer an option. In fact, there’s plenty to do as a well-trained layman, despite that yearning for restoration I suspect most deposed clergy feel in their bones. It’s hope mingled with melancholy and, let’s face it, self-pity. The phrase, “If only …” often finds its way into your vocabulary. As in, “If only I had not had that affair.” If only I had been a better person, not so fatally flawed.

Life after deposition is not carefree, but then whose life is? Just because there’s this huge regret lurking in the shadows doesn’t mean you can’t been effective, productive and sometimes even happy. What the hell is happiness anyway? I’m happiest when I’m most in touch with myself, my loved ones and that part of the world I inhabit. “Most in touch” means most in touch with all of it, the joy, sorrow, pain, regret and hope, bundled by faith and love. I was kind of bouncy after church yesterday, and someone told me I was too happy. “Too happy?” I asked. “How can you be too happy?”

As I drove home, I marveled at that exchange; first, that someone had suggested that I, of all people, was too happy; second, that I responded without hesitation in words that could not have found their way to my lips, say, 12 years ago. It was a natural, true thing to say, but I had said it. And I believed it. And I believe it now.

June 6, 2005

Postscript: A word about the art. At first glance, it seems preposterous and crude to illustrate this bit of script with an image of Christ’s deposition from the cross. I’d never heard the word used that way, but it seems well worn in art history. The resonance for me of that image with my experience is the lifelessness associated with both uses of the term — and the promise of what comes next. The overwhelming irony gives purchase, somehow, on God’s steadfast love even for those who fall far short of the mark: Christ fulfilled his vocation and was deposed lifeless from the cross. I failed to fulfill my vocation, and yet I dare to associate my lifelessness with his, even as I embrace my redemption with his suffering. Two images from scripture come to mind: Come to me you that are burdened, and I will give you rest (or, as the bishop said, put the burden down); and nothing but nothing, not even deposition from the priesthood, separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And then, for Christ, life after deposition meant resurrection from the dead. In Christ, too, life after deposition means life as one with the Risen Lord.

(Maundy Thursday, 2008)

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