Friday, 28 September 2007

In selva oscura? Lost in the great forest?

Michaelmas Priests’ pre-ordination retreat at Glenfall House, Cheltenham. It’s a tremendous privilege and always great fun to work with Abbot Stuart Burns, OSB. It's tremendously encouraging to share these days before ordination with ten excellent candidates.

I brought a poem to compline. Everything is de-institutionalising, and all the conventional waymarks are changing. Priests easily lose the script and feel lost. They can react to feeling lost by desperately clinging onto reactionary fantasy, buying a ‘how-to’ book, losing any sense of their own worth as priests or people. The contemporary stress on technique is usually self-defeating. People really need God’s grace and realism, not fantasy and guilt. The only way out begins when we live humbly and graciously within the realities of the context He has given for our priestly ministry. Tomorrow’s priests need to learn how to embrace reality, not to pretend they are not lost. Pretending not to be lost only leads to authoritarianism and hypocrisy, breakdown and guilt. Priesthood is about releasing people from that, not inducting them into it!

This poem is by Seattle poet David Waggoner. What do you do if you’re lost in the great redwood forest? If you don't know where to turn because it all looks the same?

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.


Sarah Brush said...

FABULOUS poem. Thank you.

Glad to hear all goes well and great to see many of the old SAOMC gang there!

p.s. Is it just me or have ordinands got so much taller and bishops and monks so much shorter? ;oP

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I see what you mean, Sarah. Stuart and I do look rather like evil little geshrunken Da Vinci characters. I think it was all about fitting ourselves int the picture, or servant ministry, or something

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