Dear Matthew,

On Thursday I signed your “Letters Testimonial” attesting to my confidence in your suitability to be ordained to the priesthood. A month from today you will be a priest.

Sadly, as you know, I will be unable to attend your ordination service. I will, however, be with you in spirit and hold you in my heart and prayer as you make this significant step in your journey.

Due to the hours you and I have spent together discussing life, spirituality, and ministry, it will come as no surprise that I feel compelled, as your ordination approaches, to remind you of something I have frequently said to you in a variety of ways over the past seven months.

Priesthood is not primarily about what you do; it is about who you are. Get the who right; the rest will follow.

When you are ordained a priest you become one of those people the Spirit, through the church, has set aside to preside at the altar. Everything flows from here. Your task is to stand before the gathered community and embody in your life, the truth Jacob saw when,

he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

The point in this vision is not that the top of the ladder was “reaching to heaven” while the bottom was “set up on the earth.” The important point is that the ladder connects the realms and the “angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

Priesthood is a sign that the realms are connected.

We are vertical beings. We inhabit not only this horizontal time-bound material realm in which separation seems so real; we also live in the vertical realm of mystery in which we perceive that all life is one. We may not always be aware of it, but we exist in a vortex of communion between the intangible realms of the Spirit and the material realm of form. The “angels of God are ascending and descending”.

As a priest, your first function is to call us back again and again to an awareness of the profound inter-connected mystery at the heart of all of life. You are a ladder. Conscious within yourself of the relationship that Jacob perceived and that, in Christian tradition we see embodied in the person of Jesus, you are an icon of connection.

When Jacob woke from his dream, he confessed,

Surely the Lord is in this place  – and I did not know it. (Genesis 28:16)

Before anything else your job is to “know it,” to perceive that “the Lord is in this place”. Priesthood exists to help us wake up from the illusion of separation to the miracle that every place, every person, every event is connected. Everything is a dwelling place haunted by ineffable presence.

You are to call us back to an awareness of incarnation, the incarnation in Jesus, but also the incarnation in ourselves, and in all of creation. All life is imbued with Spirit. We live in an enchanted universe. The mystery of divine presence permeates everything.

In whatever activity in which you may participate, your calling is to help us be alert to the inner beauty that is our true nature. By the deep steady faithful presence of your being, you are to help us open to the truth that all life is one and all life is infused with the tincture of the Divine.

In order to fulfill this calling, you are going to need to do the inner work of your own remembering. The challenge of priesthood is to live those practices and disciplines that help you stay awake to the presence and action of God. You are to be a space-holder for awareness so that, through you, others find support in seeing the hidden secret that is God’s presence.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to have said,

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When I was inducted as rector in my present parish, the preacher said I was taking on the most simple job in the world. He said, all I ever had to do, is “abide”.  When I start by getting the first thing first, my actions and words will be sustaining and nurturing for the people among whom I minister. “Abiding” is the first thing.

It is not so much what I do, as how I do what I do. When the how is right, the what will be right. I get the how right when I get the who right. There is no other real agenda. There are so few things that must be done, or even that must be done a certain way. When I let go of my agendas, needs, wants, and desires, I begin live from a deep place of knowing; I become that “non-anxious” presence that is the essence of priesthood.

When I remain conscious of the inter-abiding presence of Christ, my ministry is sustainable. My choices are guided by a centre of gravity that lies beyond the constant push and pull of activities or needs on the horizontal plane. I am able to live a life that is more free, open, and loving. I no longer need to push, pressure, or persuade.

Living from this grounded place within myself may be “simple”; it is never easy.

The world is bent away from the slow gentle disciplines that facilitate deep perception. At times even the church is so addicted to the frenetic busyness of the horizontal plane that we forget our first calling is to open to the deep mystery and beauty that infuse all of life. We forget to “abide”.

Only by abiding in that Spirit of love, truth, compassion, and kindness Jesus embodied will you have any hope of fulfilling the calling of priesthood that the church affirms in your ordination.

Matthew, as your priesting approaches, I pray you may find the quiet way, the gentle way, the way of opening, and softening to the Spirit who first called you and set you aside for this noble vocation. May you live deeply in this calling and find in yourself the steady sustenance and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.

God bless you Matthew,

Christopher

 

 

 

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