I was ordained a priest thirty-eight years ago.

The word ordination comes from the Latin ordinare which means to regulate, set in order, appoint, arrange. So “ordination” in its most basic sense is simply a way that the church has decided to organize itself. It is an instrument to bring some order to the way we do things. Clearly, any group of people that is going to maintain even a slightly coherent sense of shared identity, must have some agreed upon ways of ordering its common life.

When I started out in this priestly business, I had a much more exalted understanding of ordination than just one of the ways we order our life as a community. In my early years of priestly practice I believed I had been ordained to bring order to the world. It was my job to make sense of the chaos and confusion of so much of life. I was ordained, in my own mind, to fix the world and tidy up the mess that I saw all around me. This meant imparting the wisdom of my great insights to anyone who would listen. It involved structuring the life of the church to conform to certain fairly rigid moral standards of behaviour. And, it meant encouraging people who might have strayed to fall back into line with what I perceived to be God’s prescribed order for the human community.

Sadly, I failed to achieve the grand vision I had set for my ordained life. Despite my most noble efforts, life continued to confound all my attempts to wrestle order out of the chaos. Everywhere I turned another mess popped up to frustrate my plans for creating a tidy universe. People failed to fall into line with my template and the reality of circumstances continued to upset my plans for how life should operate.

So, now I understand ordination differently.

I now see the function of priesthood as perhaps best captured in the Book of Joshua. As the Hebrew people stood on the edge “The Promised Land,” the instruction was given,

You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.”  (Joshua 3:8)

My calling as a priest in the lineage of the ancient Hebrew priesthood is to “stand still in the Jordan.”

In the midst of the raging torrents, I am not ordained, to bring order to the disorder of life. My job is not to tidy up the mess. I am ordained to be a sacrament of stability and steadiness in the midst of chaos and insanity. As a priest, I am called to be “a non-anxious presence” in the midst of so much that goes against my tidy little template for how life ought to work.

As a priest, I am appointed by the church to stand in the midst of the mess and declare, “This too can be held.” I share with the community at worship in confessing the mess and confusion that are the unavoidable reality of the human condition in this material time-bound physical realm. Then I stand and announce to the community, “This mess is redeemed.” “This mess is held in the embrace of Love and it can be endured.”

A priest is an outward and visible expression of the reality that the confusions, conflicts and chaos of life do not define us. Our true identity resides, not in the turmoil that afflicts so much of the surface of life, but in the silent still depths to which the priest is intended to point.

So, perhaps the problem of priesthood is not actually a problem at all. It may just be that the mess of my own life is precisely the essential condition that is necessary for me to perform the priestly function with any integrity.

As a priest, I embody the truth that, although I may at times be overwhelmed by the conflicted realities of my own humanity, there is always a deeper truth about who I am.

Even Jesus had to wrestle with his own conflicted humanity.

So, I struggle. I struggle to be true in the midst of the falseness of the many illusions to which I often fall prey. I wrestle with my own fantasies of power. I give in to the desire to prove myself, defend myself, or assert myself over the forces of life in order to achieve my own agenda. But, none of this is a “problem.” It is all simply the voice of truth calling me to go deeper, to trust that unshakeable reality of beauty and light that exist beneath all the complex winding ways of the surface of my life.