God’s Peace and blessings everyone. For those that don’t know, I’ve spent the last nine months in discernment with our Diocese here in Atlanta. Within the Episcopal Church, someone who feels called to the priesthood must be recommended by their bishop to attend seminary and be ordained afterwards. Unlike many other Protestant and congregationalist churches, a person cannot decide on their own to be a priest, but must be supported and approved by their parish and their bishop to do so. This is to say, we must be called by both God and the community to serve as priests. While discernment processes vary from bishop to bishop, our’s relies on a lengthy process that involves a lay parish group to start, street immersion with the homeless, and ultimately a series of group discussions that are led by two priests. In the end, it is the recommendation of these two priests that holds one way or the other.
Regardless of what your vocation is, though, we all go through periods of discernment. Regardless of the work you do in your church, it should be a prayerful process of discernment. And the most important thing to remember is that while discernment, that is honest introspection and inspection, is not always comfortable, it is necessary and should be embraced not avoided.
This is not my first round through discernment. I participated in discernment towards the end of college, and while it did not lead to the priesthood at that time, it did lead to the founding of our Order. I was disappointed at the time because I did not know the promise that God had planned for me afterwards. But after five years, that yearning I feel inside to stand at the altar has yet to go away. That’s what led me back to the discernment process this time round.
On the one hand, it has been a tremendously affirming process that has convinced me of my place in the Church whatever that form may be. On the other, it’s been purposefully ambiguous through the group discussions as to where my calling to the priesthood stands with the Church’s vision. Over that portion, I have no control, and that in itself is nerve-wracking. But the most surprising gift of grace that has come from this is the healing I’ve found from the last process five years ago. The process then was not entirely healthy, just as there are issues with the process this time, but while the process isn’t perfect it is necessary. In the beginning, I had blamed the process for not being pastoral or pychologically healthy. I blamed the process and the Church for a lot of the discomfort I was feeling. But like all nitty gritty discernment, discomfort is part of the process. In the end I found relief when I stoped expecting the process to be all inclusive and meet every need I had. I found support in my parish priest, my spiritual directors, a good therapist, and my friends and siblings in the Order. This is an important lesson for any discernment: we do not discern alone and even in groups it is not in isolation. That is what makes the Church whole. I was blaming the Church for creating such an unhealthy process because I wasn’t recognizing the tools and gifts that the Church already had in place outside of the process. Christ called us into communion, community, and that is where we must look during the struggles in our life.
Our final group meeting ended with the celebration of Eucharist. And it was during that communion that I found the best image for this whole process. The travel kit that Mother had brought had old red wine stored in the glass vile. God only knows how long that wine had been there, but when Mother took it out and sniffed it, she looked like she had just gotten a shot of lemon juice in the face. After the prayers and blessings of the elements, communion was passed around from hand to hand as we reached out to receive the precious body and blood of our Lord. As the cup was handed to me, I sipped the wine and tasted the bitter sting of vinegar. Our Holy Communion was sour wine. Our Blessed Sacrament was bitter to the taste. What a fitting end to our discenmnet process! Throughout the nine months we were encourged to be present, see ourselves and be in touch with our brokenness. What better reminder of Jesus’ promise to be with us in suffering than the taste of vinegar just as Jesus was given when he hung upon the cross. It was a reminder to me that not all blessings are sweet, but they are all necessary and are ALL gifts from God. Even the bitter parts of our lives, the bitter struggles, the bitter losses can be blessed even though the blessing doesn’t make it any less bitter in our hearts.
I write this now, before knowing what my final recommendation will be. I do that intentionally so that I can look back at the process while still in that place of Unknowing. In less than two hours, at 3:00 PM, I’ll find out. What a portentous hour to remind me that I share, even if in a small way, with Christ’s own passion for us. So it will be. And I hear our Bless Mother whispering words of Wisdom, “Let it be.” God’s Peace to you all, and may you all be blessed with discernment throughout your lives. The moment we stop discerning, stop searching, we loose sight of the God that is ever beckoning us to grow. And please, keep me in your prayers, for I too am a lost sinner trying to find God.