Since almost everything in the past four months has been unusual, it should not be a surprise that it feels odd to me to be going on holiday at this time.

There is an awkward feeling of abandoning ship as we continue to navigate the uncertain choppy waters of life in the face of the on-going impact of COVID. So many things are up in the air; so many decisions have yet to be made; there is so much uncertainty.

But if there is one thing COVID has reminded me, it is that I am absolutely not indispensable. I have been deeply touched by the people who have stepped up to the plate to support our life together as a spiritual community in these challenging days. I have enormous confidence in the wisdom and openness of those with whom I am privileged to share in leadership and the commitment of so many who are supporting our worship and fellowship. We are building this new little COVID church boat together.

But, the shared nature of ministry notwithstanding, as a priest I do perhaps play a little bit of a unique role in our church journey which makes the whole idea of “vacation”, even in ordinary times, somewhat puzzling.

The reality of priestly vocation is that my “calling” is profoundly integrated with my “profession”. There is no tidy demarcation between my life and my “work”. The two worlds intimately overlap. I don’t have a “job”; I have a life. It is almost impossible to separate my function as priest from my being as person.

It is hard to take a vacation from your life. But, perhaps this is why it is so important to step aside for a time from my priestly role.

Jesus is reported to have said,

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

These are harsh and challenging words. They cut like a knife through all our most intimate and cherished attachments. To “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself” is to break my identification with anything. I am not any position I might hold, function I might fulfill, or relationship I might cherish. I am not my role as priest, any more than I am my role as parent, husband, neighbour, or friend. These functions I perform do not define the person I am.

My identity is not about what I do; it is about who I am. I am a vessel of God’s Spirit, a being in whom dwells the eternal Presence of the Divine (see biblical texts in Addendum to follow). My dignity resides, not in my abilities, achievements or productivity, but in my essential nature as a bearer of Life. I am a being in whom dwells the breath of Life; no further justification, meaning or purpose for my life is needed.

Priesthood is about patient faithfulness to a call, not professional performance review. The call comes from God; it is recognized by the church but does not originate in any human construct or structure. God may call us to hard work, but never to a life of grinding burdened stress and pressure (Matthew 11:28-30). God calls everyone to abundant life, freedom, rest, and peace (John 10:10, 14:27).

As I heed God’s call, I become able to support others in being free to live in tune with their true nature.  The “job” of a priest is to help people find their way to freedom. It is a “job” I can only hope to come even close to fulfilling when I seek to live a consistent life in submission to the Spirit. I cannot help others towards a freedom I have not experienced and in which I do not live.

In Acts chapter 24, Paul, is a prisoner held under Roman guard at the instigation of the Jewish Sanhedrin. This is certainly not a desirable situation for Paul. And yet, under examination by the Jewish ruler King Herod Agrippa, Paul says,

Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains. (Acts 26:29)

In the external realm, Paul had lost everything to which we might be tempted to cling. All external supports for his identity have been taken from him. He was utterly powerless, cut off from his friends, an outcast from his own people, a prisoner of the Romans. Clearly, Paul would not wish that Agrippa might join him in his chains.  What Paul hoped for the King was that Agrippa might experience the inner freedom in which Paul lived, despite his constrained external circumstances.

If I cannot commend to others the life I live myself, I am a hypocrite. If my spirit is bound by the chains of circumstance, my leadership and witness to Christ’s liberating power are paralyzed. The chains of external expectation, demand, and identification must be cut if I am to find my true identity and live in the freedom for which Christ has set me free.

COVID has cut away many of the things we once looked to in an attempt to support our sense of identity. These days have provided an opportunity to conduct a searching inventory of the attachments to which we cling in an attempt to prove our worth and value.

What do I really need to hold on to? Do the things to which I cling reinforce my awareness of the reality which is my essential nature? In what activities do I engage that  simply clutter my life and cause me to lose touch with my true nature? What are the practices that help me rest in my true identity as a bearer of Life?

These are important questions. It would be tragic to allow the suffering brought by COVID to slink into the shadows without allowing this tragedy to be the catalyst for some serious self-examination. So, it is time for this priest to take a little self-emptying vacation.