Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An answered prayer

"Lord, redeem my foul-ups" is often a good prayer to have on your lips...and two weeks ago, when it seemed to me that said foul-ups were reaching hitherto undreamed of depths, I prayed it alot..and then some more!
You know that a week is going badly when the funeral for a still-born babe is not the hardest thing you have to cope with...but why I'm blogging now is because, most wonderfully, my fervent prayer was actually answered.

You see, two weeks ago I discovered that I had been living inside my very own version of the Christmas edition of Rev
In case you managed to miss this (honestly - the series is far too searingly close to the reality of clerical life to count as comedy - it's far closer to documentary, imho) , poor, wonderfully human Adam gets so seasonally harassed that he fails to visit an elderly parishioner - until it's too late.
In the week before Christmas I received a similar request - from someone who spends most of his life on the edge of society, having been homeless for a long time, and with most of the associated problems.
And being over busy, and rather nervous of the prospect of visiting a somewhat volatile guy and his housemate on their home turf, I tried to phone once, failed to get through, and moved on to the next item on the "seasonal busyness" list.

And, just as happened to Adam, I was shown the flaw in my prioritising when a very angry visitor at the vicarage informed me that his housemate was dead - and what sort of a sorry apology for a priest did I call myself anyway!
And of course he was right.
Fear prevented me from doing the right thing.
I took refuge in doing other things and let my needs trump those of the people I am here to serve.
So, I felt pretty wretched.

But the following day I was given another opportunity to respond - and got to a bedside in time.
And then, wonderfully, against all expectations, I found myself trusted to take J's funeral.

It happened yesterday.
Just a small gathering in church...a  handful of volunteers and clients of our local homeless project; a community police officer; a wonderfully warm and gentle funeral director; and a sober and dignified friend.
The flower printed cardboard coffin which had seemed (if I'm honest) just a wee bit naff in the catalogue was reassuringly, delightfully homely and beautiful in reality. You could imagine it sitting comfortably in an ordinary room...not claiming false dignity or pomp...
"I'm here..part of life's reality you know...And it can be surprisingly beautiful".
I found myself touching it and interacting with it in ways that I rarely do with those highly polished coffins that seem to be set on hiding the truth of the death that lies within.
Somehow the beautiful fragility of the coffin, that mirrored the fragility of the life that had ended - a life of hardship, alienation, struggle and, I believe, acceptance.

J had loved flowers - and the church was still beautiful with the flowers left from a far grander funeral last week, which made me smile.
I wept too, as J's best friend read some wonderful words that J himself had written reflecting on his life, his future and his hopes.
A member of the "Marah" family talked of his memories and read to us from The Message
We sang and we prayed and we sat in silence.
Some of the language I use for more conventional funerals just didn't find a place...but the right words came from somewhere.
And then we followed J across town to the beautiful hillside cemetery and it was somehow incredibly right to be there, to take it in turns to throw handfuls of rich dark earth onto the coffin, to listen as S told us more about his friend, to delight as the sun broke through the clouds and the birds began to sing, a fragile chorus that promised spring to come.

We left S settling down with a drink in the sun...I pray that he'll be alright in the days ahead. Yesterday, we stood on holy ground together.


UKViewer said...

What a wonderful story. Prayer being answered is always wonderful to hear about.

But the beautiful outcome of the foul up is even more wonderful.

Praying for you, J and S even if they wouldn't want it. A prayer is never wasted.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

God is so very good at redeeming our messes! Usually redeeming them, being God, pressed down, shaken together and running over. It sounds as though that is what He has once again done here.

(Oh, and I want a cardboard coffin with flowers on it when my time comes!)

Perpetua said...

Kathryn, I'm so very glad that you were given the chance to redeem your mistake and, from the sound of it, do it so appropriately. I doubt there is a priest who hasn't messed up like this at some point and it wonderful to be given a second chance to get it right.

Martha Spong said...

Just reading your words, dear friend, I am transported to the Holy Ground. Thank you.

Sally said...

Bless you Kathryn, may you also be well in the days ahead...

Emma Major said...

Thanks for sharing this, it's so hard to forgive ourselves for our foul-ups and remember that God has our backs. It doesn't mean we don't keep trying to be the very best we can, but perhaps we stop beating ourselves up so much. As ever you have been the person God needs at the right time, for these people and for us who have learned from your sharing. Thank you xxx

Anonymous said...

Strangely I had a conversation with you about Rev, never realising when you said that this was not a comedy but a fly on the wall documentary... how close to the truth you were.
I can only say that as a priest you have to take whatever comes your way, whatever the timing or season and wherever "you are" at that time in your own life - a truly high calling indeed. My husband is a FLO Family Liason Officer and it is on his record that he won't respond to any sudden deaths for anyone under the age of 16. He is a lovely person - he just knows he hasn't the strength to cope with these.
Not so for our priests who come alongside us and journey with us whatever our circumstances (or theirs).
Please don't be too hard on yourself because the phone didn't get picked up. You where there for them despite everything else that was going on and of course you where given another chance. A more compassionate, kind and loving companion at this time would have been hard to find.
On reading your words these fly into my mind

I will hold the Christ Light for you in the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you seek the peace you long to hear

I will weep while you are weeping
when you laugh I'll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
til we've seen this journey through.

You were as Christ to them - may God continue to richly bless you in your ministry