This Embertide

It’s Embertide and several friends, all women, are being ordained to the priesthood, including one of the girls in the Episcopal Church program at Vassar when I was chaplain there.  One has small children, one is a nun.

I’m praying for these wonderful women. How beneficial for the church to have their gifts!  I’m also realizing it’s similar to how it might feel when your children have children: a mix of intense happiness for them, but knowing they’re on a trajectory of pain and joy and surprise and mystery – and more anguish than you once thought possible.  When I was young I wanted to experience “human life” (as if I was from another planet or something.) Parenthood is one way. Ministry another.

Tomorrow is my 25th ordination anniversary. I’ll be glad when the day, and when Embertide is over this year altogether.  I’ve been unusually moody and sensitive and kick-the-rock-along-the-road irritable. When other people behave this way I suspect they’re going through a spiritual transition. It’s those between-places, the closing of one door and the indistinct threshold of you-know-not-what-yet that stir up the debris usually settled along the dusty path of consciousness. “Stir up your power” we pray this week in Advent, but I get cross if holiness gets stirred up in my own life.

I suppose its been a privilege to be with people at their worst.  And to dodge the rocks thrown at you for not being “visible” in the office while you’ve been hidden in the emergency room, the intensive care unit, the citadels of the shut-in, the court-room, the jail, the psych-wards, the burn-ward, or curled up on the kitchen floor praying with a parishioner’s beloved dying cat. Negotiating through a myriad of funerals, each grief unique. Countless weddings and new babies and baptisms.  The long aftermath of rapes and abortions, divorces, suicide attempts, drawn-out painful deaths that make you question the existence of God.  Receiving veiled death threats from a drug addict. Chatting at length weekly with a charming woman with advanced dementia.  Being the sole person with a dying old woman abandoned by her family, singing her to heaven. The children killed in automobile accidents, “acts of God”, crib-deaths, cancer. Spousal abuse, neglect, incest, AIDS. Blessing body parts at Ground Zero. Children in paralyzed shock after the death of a young parent.  All the while patiently mediating impossible and contradictory expectations and deflecting the wildly out of proportion projections upon you of undeserved adoration and hatred.

Pastoral life is hid with God in Christ. People want their priest with them.  And, as I was able, I was present.  

 Public ministry as a pastor and priest is over for me. But something is “stirred up” instead, with challenges and griefs and joys and heartbreaks to come, and, of course, ever-present Mystery. 
Looking for material for this week’s web-post on www.edgeofenclosure.org  I re-discovered Merton’s poem, The Quickening of John the Baptist.  Here’s a small portion from the poem that gives me comfort this week.

 Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied
sermon. Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
seeking the world’s gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
with hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.

 -Thomas Merton 1915-1968

Suzanne Guthrie Paglen, December 15, 1984, St. Martin's Church, Davis, California

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4 Responses to “This Embertide”

  1. Deb Blakley Says:

    Where are we, do you think? I know of many, for whom ministry, of one type or another, has been the calling, the fire within them, who are at this time in a place similar to your own. Those who have been warriors in prayer, in intercession, in mysticism, seem to be walking at the’far end of solitude’ ‘listening with hearts attuned to skies we can not understand’; engulfed and overwhelmed with the madness, sorrow and destructive path of our present world. Has is always been thus? And if not, what is happening? I would love your thoughts. I have been in the middle ground for a year. I am giving it time but I am wondering.

  2. Joan Stone Says:

    I just read this this morning. I was there, is it twenty-five years, Suzanne? With all such as you mention in the Embertide thoughts, the situations, emotions, insights, and especially, the children, our children. It goes quickly–some times slowly, it is time itself. You have had much experience as a priest in the world and now your world is a holy place inside you from which you light lamps for those of us who read your words and are awakened. Traveling our different paths along the years we’ve somehow kept a fragile thread, much tarnished, much loved, a friendship much cherished. Let us continue to wait upon “the first far drums” in holy faith as we walk through this incomprehensible, beautiful life.

  3. Anne G. Says:

    And blessings on your head for all that you have done–and all that you will do. I’m sure you know it (you must!) but you have been a light for many, myself included. Not because you’re one of the honor roll sopranos/wise virgins, but precisely because you are not. But then you’re not an oil lamp at all…you, my dear, are a shamash.

  4. Diane Says:

    Your memories are lighted lamp posts that will never be extinguished.

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