Tuesday of this week I was ordained a deacon in God’s church. It was a joyful and moving service. Friends and family from various communities that have supported me in my life of faith and discernment joined the bishop, the monastic community, and me to witness this moment in my life, a moment that is also a moment in the life of the church and the life of our monastery.
Before the service, I went down to the river to spend a quiet moment in a familiar and holy place. I find myself wandering down to that spot more and more often, in all kinds of weather and moods, drawn by…I know not what. The River calls to me. It is an incarnation of the divine, a reminder of strength, an example of the power of surrendering to change and of learning, a visual and auditory symbol of my baptism into all life, at the heart of which is Christ. But the River is more than all that. It’s not reducible. It has a life, mystery, and subjectivity of its own. It is ancient and ever-new. Mostly, I go down the River, as I did Tuesday morning, to be with a friend.
Shortly after my ascent to the monastery, I found myself in conversation with a priest and mentor who has helped guide me through the last many years of the formal process of discernment toward ordination. She asked me if, now that I’m a monk, I see my diaconal and forthcoming priestly ministry within the context of the monastery or within the context of the wider church. For the first time I was able to articulate an intuition that has been growing in me over the last several years.
“Neither,” I told her.”I see my ministry as encompassing the whole world,” by which I meant not only the human world but also the trees, the River, the sunshine, and the stones.
Thomas Berry speaks of humankind as the universe come to consciousness. We humans are not somehow separate from the rest of the created world. We are the product of billions of years of experimentation, adaptation, and spontaneity, grown to consciousness so that we can give voice to the whole world.
Over the last week I’ve been praying with an icon of Mary as the burning bush. In this image Mary extends her arms in the orans position, like a priest at an altar. But she isn’t at a conventional altar. Rather, she wears the bush like a chasuble, and her altar is the whole world. As I’ve gazed on this image, I’ve come to see her priesthood as giving voice to the voiceless ones–the marginalized and excluded among the human population, yes, but also to the animals whose habitats are destroyed, the earth raped for fuel, the waters out of which all life emerged choked with plastic waste and poisoned with chemical runoff. This is an image of Mary bearing the pain of the whole universe, singing its cry, her arms open in embrace and intercession and witness. All the time, she is on fire with the Word of Love, and rather than being consumed, she is set alight as a beacon of Love.
That’s the priestly and diaconal ministry to which I am called.
During the ordination service, I knelt in front of the bishop while we sang the ancient plea for the Holy Spirit to descend. O Come, Holy Spirit, by whose breath life rises vibrant out of death. You are the seeker’s only course, of burning love the living source. I began the hymn with the assembly but found that I needed to stop singing by the second verse. The bishop stretched out his hands toward my head as I fell silent. Emotion flooded me along with the strongest sense of seeing myself as God sees me. I was gazing on the gift of my life, and at the very same moment I was receiving that gift, another fragment stitched back into the whole. As tears streamed down my face, I knew the gift of my life, in both senses of that word. My life is a gift of God to me, and also a gift of God for the whole world. As the hymn concluded, I moved deeper yet into a calm unlike any I have known. I felt I was standing on the Rock.
Yesterday a friend texted me to ask if I felt different. I responded that mostly, I felt exhausted. It’s tiring work to allow the Holy Spirit to move through you. Having slept quite a lot, this morning I find myself renewed for the work ahead: to move more deeply into the mystery of my life and of all life, to seek and serve Christ at the heart of all the world, and to allow myself to be set alight as a beacon of Love.
To listen to Fr. Matthew Wright’s wonderful ordination sermon, click here.