Dying to Be Blessed

Posted on Posted in Teri's Blog

The Rev. Teri Daily

Aurora borealis, by SSGT JOSHUA STRANG [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.

–Martin Luther

 

When you are still young, you want to hold everything in your own hands, but when you have grown older and opened your hands in prayer, you are able to let yourself be led without knowing where.  You know only that the freedom which God’s breath has brought you will lead to new life, even if the cross is the only sign you see.

–Henri Nouwen[1]

 

Our disasters come from letting nothing live for itself, from the longing we have to pull everything, even friends, into ourselves, and let nothing alone.

–Robert Bly[2]

 

All will come of its own accord in good time and with abundant fullness, so long as one does not attempt to hoard or cling.

It is a path [Jesus] himself walked to the very end.  In the garden of Gethsemane, with his betrayers and accusers massing at the gates, he struggled and anguished but remained true to his course.  Do not hoard, do not cling—even to life itself.  Let it go, let it be—“Not my will but yours be done, O Lord.  Into your hands I commend my spirit.”   

Thus he came and thus he went, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, “gambling away every gift God bestows.”  It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.

–Cynthia Bourgeault[3]

 

I was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Church on March 15, 2008.  (I would later be ordained to the priesthood on September 20 of that same year.)  My road to ordination was a smooth one in the eyes of others.  It was a mere sixteen months from the time I first spoke with the bishop about my desire to be a parish priest to the time I entered the Seminary of the Southwest Class of 2008.   But the absence of overt bumps didn’t mean that the internal journey to ordination was equally tranquil.  In fact, my psyche became increasingly agitated as the transition approached, and my dreams betrayed the anxiety I felt.

One dream from that time remains vivid in my memory.  In the dream I am participating in a Protestant worship service, one like so many of the services I attended growing up in the South.  The worship takes place in a rectangular-shaped room with cheap, brown paneling that makes the room look more like a family den than a sanctuary.  The commercial-grade, polychromatic carpet is comprised of greens and blues in varying shades.   The space is without altar or rail – just two carpeted steps leading to a semicircular, low stage with a pulpit front-and-center.  After scripture, hymns, and a lengthy sermon, the service is over and I am in line to shake hands with the pastor.  But being Episcopalian, two things are glaringly absent.  Every part of me cries out:  What about Eucharist?  And where is my blessing?

Despite my confusion and complaints, I am shepherded into an adjacent room where dim light reveals a restaurant bar and several small dining tables.  I drink wine and eat what is served, but as I do so I become ever weaker.  I begin to waste away.  A quick glance in the mirror reveals a multitude of wrinkles not there a few hours before, and I am struck with the gravity of my situation.  I am dying.  I know that when I finish eating I will receive a blessing – from where and from whom this blessing will come is hazy, but the blessing is still within my grasp.  I eat more and faster, but to no avail – I continue to age and waste away.  And yet the meal continues in a leisurely fashion without any sense of urgency, without any acknowledgment that I am inching toward death with every passing moment, without any recognition that something is amiss.  With mounting agitation, it dawns on me:  What if I die before I receive a blessing, my blessing?

Of course, my dream is an unfinished worship service.  The first room being the Liturgy of the Word, the second being the Liturgy of the Table (or Eucharist).  But, for some time after the dream, the unreceived blessing left me somewhat rattled.  Why am I so panicked about dying without a blessing?  The blessing I am waiting for in the dream is, I believe, ordination to the priesthood.  But if I believe in the priesthood of all believers (and I do), then why am I so anxious?  Why am I scared to think that I may start down a path and not be able to finish it?

It can take years for us to be ready to receive an insight, and such was the case for me with this dream.  As I reflected on the dream in the following years, I focused on my fear – that if I died then I would never receive the blessing for which I so longed.  I completely missed the point that sometimes we have to die in order to receive a blessing.  Death is not an obstacle to the blessing I so long for in my dream; instead, death actually births the dream into being.  In fact, any transition or transformation requires a death – a letting go, a giving up – so that something new can be born in its place.

All too often, though, I shy away from offering up my life in exchange for a blessing.  All too often I expect God to pry open my hand – a hand that clinches the things I already am and already have – so that a blessing might be nestled amidst the clutter of my life.  Like the rapidly-dying self in my dream, I try desperately to hold onto everything and, in the process, refuse to make room for what the Holy Spirit desires to give.  I want the impossible – to receive the blessing of new life without the experience of death.

The truth is that ordination did, in some ways, bring death.  It brought a loss of freedom, for now I speak for the Church and not only for myself.  It brought invisibility or loss of self, for some lose my face in the blinding reflection of the collar.  It brought the loss of much coveted family time, for now I worship at a distance from my children and husband who sit in a pew.

And with ordination, just as surely, came the blessing of new life.  Instead of performing physical exams, my hands now perform the ritual movements of Eucharist with the bread and wine.  When I enter a hospital room now, my collar radiates the message that I bear the prayers and love of a whole congregation, not just my own.  I journey now with more than four hundred others who teach me so much about myself and the world in general.

I wish I could go back to the “me” of my dream and reassure her.  I wish I could tell her to let go and trust the arms of God to catch her.  I wish I could tell her to eat the bread and drink the wine with peace in her heart, for the transformation they bring includes new life as surely as it does death.  I wish I could tell her to trust Easter. 

But, all of that would be wasted breath.  The dream is past.  Life happens only in the present.  And so, instead, I simply whisper to my current self to live “the now” with open hands.

 

[1] Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1995) 57.

[2] As quoted in Parker Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004) 51.

[3] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston: Shambhala, 2008) 69-70.