Last week I went to visit a friend of mine who is a priest in New South wales. Just in passing, he mentioned that he had told his bishop (also a friend of mine) that I would be coming. “That would be loud”, replied the bishop.
At that moment I had a pang of ‘so-this-is-how-other-people-see-you!’
Most of the time it is possible to live, only dimly aware of such things, but from time to time, like this time, I am now aware that the first thing this episcopal friend of mine thinks about me (despite my many gifts) is that I am ‘loud.’ Well maybe.
So the blow to my ego overcome, I went home. During the following days, I happened to see the movie Billy Elliot on the TV. For those of you who have not seen it, Billy Elliot tells the story of a boy from a coal mining district of England, who wants to become a ballet dancer.
Clearly there is opposition (at first) from his family, who do not have the equipment to understand what this ambition might be about.
One scene then just moved me to tears.
Billy is at his ballet class. His father comes in and announces that this will be the end. Billy goes into a toilet cubicle in the building, and just ‘lets fly’. As I remember it now it is a mixture of dance steps and wild lashing out. It looks like all of his energy, all of his passion is just let out, but confined too: in the toilet! Billy goes on to become a lead dancer, not least, thanks to the huge personal sacrifices made for him by his father.
So I tell this story because it represents some of my own dilemma, as I reflect on my life in the Church.
I must admit that I am like Cardinal Newman here. My sense of passion or longing for god was not pure. Like Newman I can say
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
It seems to me that before the passion for God that is truly pure can be expressed, other things must be dealt with first. I thought of becoming a Jesuit, but then understood that my own sexual life was no where near as mature as it needed to be in order to accept a vow of celibacy.
It was insecurity that made me want to ‘choose my own way’
But now, and behind all of the other passions was the passion to, like Billy Elliot, just flow as a person: to take all of the energy that is a part of my life and to let it just Go somewhere!!!
I recently found this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke* which seemed to capture what I am like She says “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”
Unfolding is right, but for what I sense, I don’t want to unfold, as much as ‘burst into life!’
Now the institution that I joined, to provide a strong structure for this ‘going’ was the Church. The down side of this place is that often people have described the amount of energy that I have brought to work as a priest as ‘too much’ or ‘loud’.
Too often, being the ‘artist’ that is represented by the combination of calling, skill and passion that is the priestly life is smothered in the art of getting things done in parishes, or by the call for everything to be done ‘decently and in order.’
Well I agree with things being done decently and in order, but I do not like it when this call results in Eucharists that are not full of passion and upon which is not placed the weight of the souls who attend.
The up side of this place is that it has as its central action, the sacraments. These structures that have the capacity to hold the weight of a soul. They have the capacity to allow me to flow as a person.
Like being a ballet dancer, knowing how to put on a Eucharist takes great skill. It takes great planning, and it takes great knowledge, and an inner ’feel’ for the thing. But when all this comes together, in the Spirit, then we can all fly!
The other day I went to the ANZAC service, sponsored by our local RSL branch. Like most of these, the ceremonies are lead by a ‘master of ceremonies’ who announces what is going to happen. Those who attend can then be relatively passive, as they watch what others have trained to put on.
The difference between this kind of ceremony and a Eucharist is that in a Eucharist, there is rarely a ‘master of ceremonies’. Everyone has their part to play, and the Spirit ‘with ah, bright wings’ hovers over our midst, inspiring, and co-ordinating what happens. There is less passivity in such celebrations.
Being a priest in the Anglican church has meant that the kind of flowing that is represented by the movie Billy Elliot has been possible, though more rarely than I would have liked. But they have occurred frequently enough to keep me hopeful, and in the long run, able to withstand the epithet of being ‘loud.’
*Cited by + Kay Goldsworthy’s foreword to ‘A Kaleidoscope of Pieces’ (Alan Cadwallader Ed. ATF, Adelaide 2106)