Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ordination ~ When Exactly?

A friend posted a couple of days ago that she recalls the couple of weeks before her ordination as having been a particularly sacred time.

Her remark gave me great pause.  I had hoped for and imagined the same would be the case for me ~ but instead I have been so preoccupied with balancing the realities of first-time ministry with the realities of a breast cancer diagnosis that .  . . . yeah, I have completely lost sight of the sacredness of these last weeks of preparation and planning.

A few days ago I came across something I had written, perhaps when I was trying to decide whether to attend my seminary graduation.  My comments were to the effect that it is not the big, planned, elaborate and official events that mark the Befores and Afters in our lives.  It's the unexpected moments in which everything is changed in ways previously unimaginable and unanticipatable.  (No, probably not a word. But a reality, nevertheless.)

I barely remember my graduations from high school, college, or law school.  I remember my dresses (!) ~ but that's about it.  I do remember my seminary graduation and no, I should not have gone.  I remember it as several hours of almost unmitigated pain.  Josh was not there, and so I did not want to be there, either.

The big Befores and Afters, the ones that actually matter? 

I remember both of  mine with absolute clarity.

October 1960.  I am a seven-year-old girl in a hospital bed, being told that her mother is not coming and that she cannot go to her mother ~ ever.  I remember the sound of my own wail.  I remember the words I said to my father.  I remember the light.

September 2008.  I am a 55-year-old woman standing in the middle of a large but spartan bedroom at a Jesuit retreat center, cell phone to my ear, listening to my husband tell me that our son has died of suicide. I remember most of the conversation, and I remember the way the room seemed to tilt, the way the whole earth seemed to tilt off its axis.  The light, oddly, was much as it had been 48 years earlier.  Early autumn light, diffused through institutional windows.

Those, I think, those are the moments, which changed me and made me who I am.  

Oh, I've had a lot of training and experience since then.  I've shared much of the travail of the divorce process with the adults and children whom I have represented in court.  I've been with many people, and with their family members, as they've died.  I can write about supralapsarianism and I could probably translate some Greek or Hebrew if forcibly  backed into a corner.

But those moments of my life ~ those are the moments in which I became the person who knows what it means to share the illnesses and injuries and traumas of others.  (Those are the moments in which I developed what some have referred to as my limited capacity to suffer fools!)

Those are the moments in which I was launched into a lifetime of exploration of the silent reserve of God.

I'm wondering if there is going to be another such moment, in the days or weeks toward the end of autumn and beginning of winter when I fully digest the unwanted alteration of my body.  (Probably not, actually. It won't be the death of a person.  But as another woman pastor has gently reminded me: it will be another big loss.)

Ordination?  It's been carefully and thoughtfully planned.  There will be a lot of gorgeous music and a lot of praying and a lot of preaching.  There will be some questions and some promises.  I will probably cry.

But I'm not at all sure that next Sunday will be my actual ordination day.


  1. I hope your ordination day will surprise you. Blessings as you move toward it.

  2. Not sure if I will be there in person, but I will be there in spirit. Holding you, as always, in prayer.

  3. My best friend died 3 days after my ordination. It created a bit of a distraction among many other things that happened before. Much like you, I feel like my ordination ceremony - the actual moment when I read my vows, was not the actual moment. I feel like my ordination comes in waves - every time I remember and can feel God as the source of my abilities - every time I have loved ones remind me I am capable of this difficult task, every time I fall in love with ministry even more because I can see the "light" in a child, and every time a "difficult" parishioner reminds me I am ordained, not coronated. (Is that a word?) :D

    Blessings on your special day and all those befores and afters that make it real.

  4. PB, I am so deeply sorry about the loss of your friend.

  5. Thank you. I think about her often - she too had just finished seminary and had been ordained just a few months before. I know she is present with me and I see her inspiration in my own ministry. I pray you can see the life of your son in some of your ministry as well. Thank you for sharing your blog - I look forward to reading more of it.