Friday, May 01, 2009

Through all the changing scenes of life


In an attempt to resume some regular blogging (have an awful feeling that when not reflecting here, I may not actually be doing much reflecting anywhere) I'm marking my very own rite of renewed blogging passage by playing this week's Friday Five.
Inspired by May Day's significance in the pagan calendar, Sally writes

I believe that we live in a ritually impoverished culture, where we have few reasons for real celebration, and marking the passages of life; So

1. Are ritual markings of birth, marriage and death important to you?
No prizes for guessing my answer is a resounding Yes...Being involved in what the C of E rather quaintly describes as "the occasional offices" (those services which mark particular life events) is one of the parts of ministry I most treasure. So many times, they have offered the perfect opportunity to help build bridges for someone between their own story and the God-story in which our stories find meaning...Rituals allow an opportunity to pause, and, by word and gesture, to accept(or at least respond to) the changes that come our way, so far as we are able.
The privilege of being with people at these times of transition, when there is no more room for pretence, can be almost overwhelming. Being invited into their lives and asked to hold some of the pieces while they try to make sense of the new picture that emerges is quite simply mind-blowing. In itself, that opportunity makes me glad that the Church of England is still the "default" option for many - even in this year of grace, 2009.

2. Share a favourite liturgy/ practice.
I'm a catholic Anglican, - so the choice is almost overwhelming. I love using oil - in so many ways...with the sick and the dying...to mark the cross on the candidate's forehead during baptism( - and I love even more the fact that Common Worship offers the opportunity for family and godparents to do so too. Somehow that enforces their involvement in the committments that are being made as mere words can never do.) The most significant liturgical act for me during a rite of passage was the anointing of my hands during my ordination as priest. As I wrote soon afterwards, somehow that act turned my hands into a sacramental sign in themselves, so that whenever I stand behind the altar to preside, whenever I pray a blessing, I look at those hands and remember what happened that day, Whose hands they should now be... Writing this, I'm struck by the connection with the Experience Easter station "the Servant King", which invited the children to dip their fingers in the font and mark their own hands with the cross as a sign of dedication to loving service in the world...Dear Theresa of Avila....

3. If you could invent ( or have invented) a ritual what is it for?
Not an invented ritual, but something that was hugely significant for me was the decision, just before diaconal ordination, to write out the experiences of my first selection conference (at which I was told I had absolutely no vocation to ordained ministry, and ought to go home and feed my (non-existent) chickens without more ado). On the last day of our ordination retreat, with 2 friends for moral support, I set fire to the paper on which I'd penned the whole thing, doubts and anxieties (what if they'd been right all along?), resentments and sadness - and flung (a decorous scattering just wasn't right) the ashes into the nearest flower bed while apologising to God for having doubted my calling.
It worked.

Even on my least adequate, most self-doubting days I've always known that this is who I am, that priesthood is the fullest expression of my being I'll encounter this side of eternity.


4. What do you think of making connections with neo-pagan / ancient festivals? Have you done this and how?
Well, leaving aside the Yule/Christmas and Eostre/Easter connections as too obvious to mention- yes, I think it's a great idea. I've not yet done something explicitly making the connections, though as my parishes are in an area where New Age & Paganism spiritualities are very much part of the culture I can see it becoming an important element in ministry here some time in the future. I also want to do more to create links with the Hallmark feasts (Valentine's Day et al) which the church is rather inclined to dismiss in a po-faced, superior way. People like celebration: that seems quite a good reason to provide it as we try to act as sign posts to life in all its fulness. The medieval church was so wonderful at providing a festivals at the drop of a hat - the only holidays to be had. In contrast, today we often seem to be saying "stop celebrating with your family, - come and have an altogether less joyful time here with us". But wholeness and holiness belong together - God so loved the world, - not, thank goodness, the church...

5. Celebrating is important: what and where would your ideal celebration be?
A meal for all the people I love most, - though somehow there's room for us all to sit round a table without it being too ridiculously huge...not sure how we'll achieve that. We're at a restaurant on a balcony beside the sea...at twilight on a warm evening. I guess we might be in Italy or Greece, as it's the kind of place where small children can run around between the tables, smiled on by all and sundry, and we're eating fish, and lovely aubergine fritters (must be Greece then), drinking chilled wine and watching fireflies in the bushes nearby, and stars reflected in the water below. As to what we are celebrating? Life, I think, don't you?

7 comments:

Song in my Heart said...

One of the things I enjoyed in Judaism was the richness of ritual, especially shared ritual.

Finding meaningful rituals was difficult in the unsettled childhood I had, and is difficult for different reasons now.

Purple said...

Celebrating in Italy or Greece...how delightful.

Sophia said...

Thank you for recalling the same memory and joy around the anointing of my hands (the other key moment was the prostration). I cupped them and the ordaining bishop lavishly poured oil into them. I hated to wash them in the lemon water after but didn't want to drop the chalice!

Thanks also for your reflections on and openness to both pagan/New Age spirituality and cultural holidays....You have the message quite right! I was distressed once by a group of female clergy vowing to ignore Mother's Day in church as a saccharine, purely secular, spiritually bankrupt holiday rather than using it as a platform to honor all women, mothers or not, and God our Mother. Especially because many of them were nonliturgical folks who began singing Christmas carols the first Sunday of Advent!

mompriest said...

sigh...yes, I too love much of what you describe here, including the process of struggling toward ordination even as it is the truest calling and sense of self for me too...thank you.

Sarah said...

Oh kathryn, me too. I can still feel the oil dripping through my fingers as the bishop pressed my hands together in his and held them there. Every time I doubt I am 'good enough' to use my hands to bless and break bread i return to that moment. Hugely significant, hugely affirming.

Chris said...

Wow! Wonderful reflections, beautifully expressed! Thank you.

Laptop Parts said...

Hey,
I respect your work very much. Well worded talent goes far in the journalism career. Keep up the good work, so far I've clearly understood and followed up with your writings and I just want to throw some kudos at you, very good to hear people putting their mind to words the clear way :)
Anyways, until the next time I run across your page, c ya' ciao!