What is your post to hold? Reflections on the Spiritual Gift of Weirdness

What is your post to hold?

Reflections on the Spiritual Gift of Weirdness

Stuart Higginbotham

 

Image result for thomas keating images

On August 8 of this year, I had a very powerful dream.  It was a lucid dream that sat me straight up in bed at almost two o’clock in the morning.  I dream a lot, and my dreams are often vivid, but this intensity of this dream felt different, more focused.  When I woke up, I slipped out of bed, crept downstairs, and wrote it all down so I wouldn’t forget any of the details.  It has remained with me since then, and I find myself thinking about it often in conversations.

I had been invited with a small group of folks to go visit Fr. Thomas Keating.  I was with a small group, but I didn’t know who any of the others were.  I couldn’t see the faces of the people in the group, but I felt them there.

We were at what I felt was a monastery, and there was a small cabin there surrounded by grass.  It was a lovely little building, surrounded by gardens.  Strangely, I was carrying a tuba.  (I don’t play the tuba).

When we walked up to the cabin, another monk was there at the door.  Strangely, he was not Trappist, but had on a simple white alb or cassock.  

He had white hair but seemed young.  He opened the door, welcomed us all in, and showed us to a small waiting room on the side of the cabin.  

 One by one we were going to go see Fr. Thomas.  

 The monk came and called for me, and as we walked in the room with Fr. Thomas, he was lying there in his Trappist habit on a sort of daybed in the middle of the room.  The monk said, “Fr. Thomas, here is Stuart.” 

“Oh yes, Stuart,” he said.  “Please come over here.  We need to talk.”

 I walked over and sat on the edge of the bed next to him.  He leaned up a bit and said, “Are you ready to receive your marching orders for what comes next? For what you are supposed to do?”  I told him I was.  I felt unsure of what was going to come next.

 Suddenly, there were other people in the room.  They felt like observers, but I didn’t really see them.  They were in the background, watching.  

Fr. Thomas raised up his hands and said, “By the power invested in me from Nathan Deal and to the Republic for which it stands.”

I thought that was very odd.  (Nathan Deal is our governor here, in Georgia).

 Then, Fr. Thomas looked at me, leaned in close, winked and smiled, and said, “We need to do this showy stuff.  They like this, don’t they?”  We both smiled at each other, and then, suddenly, it was just the two of us.  Everyone else had suddenly faded away.

 He leaned toward me with a serious look on his face.  He said, “Now, are you really ready to know what you are supposed to do? Who you are?”

“I think so,” I told him.  “Yes,” I said.

 Fr. Thomas became very focused.  He reached up, made the sign of the cross on each of my eyes, and looked intently in my face.

“You are to remain as simple as possible, to be a teacher, and to show all whom you meet that God is already with them and loves them.”  After he said this, we both just sat there with one another.

We looked at each other, and he asked me, “Do you understand what I am telling you?”

“Yes.” I told him.  “I understand.”

“Good” he said.

He smiled, lay back down, and I shot straight up in bed awake.  

It was 1:55 a.m. when I looked at my phone.

 

This dream is one that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life.  The next day I wrote two close friends and colleagues, sharing it with them.  One of them, Justin, had been a monk with Fr. Thomas at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass for three years.  The other, Jessie, is co-editing a volume with me with contributors who were at the New Contemplatives Exchange in Snowmass last August, when we all spent time with Fr. Thomas.  Justin advised me to take the dream seriously—to pay attention.  I asked my good friend Jason to go to lunch so I could process it with him.  I asked him over pretzels what to make of this.

What are we to make of dreams like this?  What am I to make of this one?  It feels very important, like it is helping to clarify my own vocation at a critical time in my life and the life of my parish.  When I told my colleague Cynthia about the dream, we had a long conversation about the image of recognizing “what post is mine to hold.”

I think this image is a helpful one—holding a post.  What is my particular thing or area to support, to embody, at this moment in my life?  As we step further into the details of our parish’s Bicentennial Capital Campaign, I have daily opportunities to reflect on my role as rector—and how I often feel incompetent in the face of so many details with building plans, financial development, etc.  How to hold all of this?

And I hear Cynthia’s wisdom: “What is your post to hold?”

 

When I first arrived at Grace in January 2014, I went to Lanier Village Estates to visit the parishioners who lived there.  It is a phenomenal retirement community that is as close to the best of college life for older adults as I have ever known!  They are full of wisdom and grace.

At my first Eucharist service there, an incredible wise woman named Carolyn came up to me, put her hands on both my shoulders, looked me in the eye and told me, “We didn’t ask you to come here to focus on administration.  You have a wonderful staff and vestry to help with that.  We asked you to come here to be our priest.”  I have not forgotten that—never will.

It is not that I should not be vividly aware of the administrative details—or that I am responsible for them as it were.  Carolyn was reminding me of what post was mine to hold.  What is this season of life calling from me—in both my life and vocation and in the life of the community of Grace Episcopal Church?  What does it mean to be a priest here?

 

When I close my eyes, I can see the scene from my dream.  I can feel Fr. Thomas make the sign of the cross on my eyes.  I can hear his voice: “You are to remain as simple as possible, to be a teacher, and to show all whom you meet that God is already with them and loves them.” 

 

While reflecting on this, my mind went back to a conversation with my professor and friend Bill Harkins, how he shared in a class somewhere that the etymology of the word ‘weird’ pertains to understanding one’s destiny.  One’s vocation.  One’s purpose.  What is my particular post to hold.

It turns out that ‘weird’ means a lot more than perhaps we thought it did.  With Middle English and by Shakespeare’s time, he used it do describe the “three weird sisters” in Macbeth, the three who dealt with the sphere of fate and destiny.  You can see in the Proto-Germanic, wurthiz, it means ‘that which comes.’  It is a word that describes—or tries to describe—what it means to become, to come into being.  There’s richness there.  “Search it up,” as my wife’s middle schoolers say in class.

Far from the richness of Middle English, my own days of Middle School found me labeled weird quite often—a gangly and bookish child with a mild speech impediment and absolutely no discernable skill at sports.  But my classmates weren’t associating me with the nuanced image of discerning destiny.  To be called ‘weird’ was to be ridiculed, removed, suspect.  Weird.

I think it’s time we explore being weird again.

When we are ordained priests, it is understood from a sacramental point of view that we are “set apart” within a community to offer prayers, to lead worship, to offer pastoral care, tend to the community, bring the Good News of Christ, care for young and old, rich and poor, offer the Eucharist and the full sacramental life to all those we meet.  Now that I think about it, it seems quite clear to me that we are declared ‘weird.’ We embark on this ontological journey, growing in awareness of what it means to become a priest in Christ’s Church.

The trick, of course, is that every single person is called to share in this.  This call to weirdness is not restricted only to priests, or deacons or bishops.  It is the call of all the baptized, of every single person who is held in God’s embrace.  Communities always have an urge to lay all the weirdness at the feet of the priests.  Perhaps, we priests would do well to remember that we should return the favor.

We trade in weirdness, in conversations about becoming, about vocation, purpose, identity, and deep meaning.  Our hearts thrive in this space.  Our souls sing when we share a cup of tea with someone who is yearning for a deeper way to pray.  I think the Church lives into its vocation when we put our bucket down in these deep waters.

Cynthia told me the other day how she read that the moment of discovery in a scientist’s lab is not marked by a shout of “Eureka!” but by furrowed eyebrows and the statement of “Well that’s weird.”  How many times have we called someone only to find out they were picking up the phone to call us, or were thinking about us.  And what do we say: “Wow, that’s weird.” I think we know we are getting close to something—but then perhaps we back away.

There is no doubt that my dream with Fr. Thomas was an encounter with a message about my own vocation.  The message I received there was a grace, and it has helped me enormously in my discernment.

“You are to remain as simple as possible, to be a teacher, and to show all whom you meet that God is already with them and loves them.” 

We looked at each other, and he asked me, “Do you understand what I am telling you?”

“Yes.” I told him.  “I understand.”

“Good” he said.

But, this message is not restricted to me.  While my dream has helped me understand what is my own particular post to hold, we each must remember that we each have a post to hold.  We each have a part to play, gifts to share.  We each are called to do our part—to be our part!  Only when each of us holds up our posts can the Church as a whole support its collective vocation to embody Christ’s compassion in this world of ours—through the Spirit’s constant presence and empowering nudging.  We each are called to claim our weirdness.  What if this is the very thing that opens our hearts to a fuller grace?

So, this is where I am left today, in my reflection: Fr. Thomas’s invitation to me and the Spirit’s invitation to all of us:

He leaned toward me with a serious look on his face.  He said, “Now, are you really ready to know what you are supposed to do? Who you are?”

“I think so,” I told him.  “Yes,” I said.

Oh, may God give us the courage to answer yes.  Oh that we could be a really weird church!

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