The problem with priesthood is that the goal is so distant and failure so near at hand.

The primary purpose of priesthood is to bear testimony to the hidden mysterious Presence that permeates all of existence, but which we so often neglect, or fail to perceive because we stay fixated on the surface realities of life. A priest is a pointer to depth, a reminder that life is always, as Jesus said,

more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Matthew 6:25)

As a priest, my professional currency is the “more than” dimension to which Jesus sought to awaken everyone whose life he touched. I work in the realm of the numinous, the intangible. I deal in the impractical language of mystery beyond measurement, calculation, and technique. I seek to help earthbound beings discern the faint whisper of Transcendence, that permeates the secret depths of life.

This is why I wear robes when I lead worship; it is not to draw attention to myself, much less to set myself apart as someone special. I wear robes to signify that our rituals when we gather as church are not confined to the time-bound material realm. Robes transcend culture, style, and fashion. They attempt to point to eternity; they speak of a vast unseen realm only glimpsed by faith. This is the territory of priesthood.

When I hold up bread and wine before the gathered community, I am saying there is something more here than bread and wine. There is Presence, even in these most basic elements. This bread and this wine contain depth and mystery. They signify that the material horizontal realm is everywhere permeated by the vertical transcendent dimension. Every place we stop and pay attention becomes a place of holiness. In worship we affirm a true and deeper vision of reality than is contained by the storyline that functions only on the horizontal axis. I hold up bread and wine in the Eucharist in order that our eyes may be opened.

My task is to promote perception. My first call is not to impart information – we already have way to much information – or to fix the world, or administer a smoothly operating little religious machine. I am called, before anything else, to support awakening, to help people find that deep place within themselves where they are able to discern the Presence that is everywhere in, what Richard Rohr calls, this “Christ-soaked world.”

I do not bring Presence. Presence is always present. I seek to pull back the veil with which we so often cover our eyes and prevent ourselves from seeing into the depths because we remain so preoccupied with the details, struggles and challenges of daily life.

The problem of course is that, my priestly function notwithstanding, I am just the same as all those who allow themselves to become insensitive to the secret realms that are imperceptible to the senses. I too obsess about the details of circumstance. I get preoccupied with the all-too-tangible realities of daily living. I worry about how I will be received; I fret over lost car keys; I worry about my family and how they will manage. I am anxious about the life of the church in which I serve and what the future may hold. I fume when I feel wronged, discounted or hard done by. I am, as Wendell Berry describes himself,

a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies.

And so I fail. Again and again, I fail to live with the awareness of Presence at the very depths of my being. And, the problem with priesthood is that when I fail to rest in Presence myself, it is of course impossible for me to signify the deeper reality to which I seek to point. I am a singer who has lost the tune. I have become tone deaf to the deeper melody I hope to sing.

I know the normal things that catapult me out of the awareness of Presence. When I fail to take time to be deeply quiet, my awareness of the Presence I hope to convey, seeps quietly away. When I allow myself to get caught up in anxiety or endless strategies about some future I feel compelled to control, I lose the melody of Presence. When I become overly attached to my agenda and my vision of how the world should be unfolding, I become lost in the fog that hinders any hope of perceiving more clearly. The connection between these habitual behaviours and my inability to see, is obvious. But sometimes the loss is less easily accounted for. What then?