I mentioned yesterday that amid the grief (and other Christmas aggravations like the alternator going on the car) there have only been will-o’-the-wisp moments when I have connected with the Christ-child this Christmas.
As I prepare to write a 5000 word essay this week, and re-start my hospital placement (grotty cough permitting) I wanted to reflect briefly on what those glimpses have said been, and what I’ve allowed the Christ-child to give me. They are what I have been given to build-up my sense of Christ’s presence with me as I return to my Benedictine studies.
I didn’t make church on 23rd December (Advent 4) because I was simply feeling too rough. Instead I sought out the sermons of clergy friends on Twitter, to feed what little brain I had. I lit upon this sermon from Reverend Ally. She reminds us of the questions Mary asked of Gabriel at the annunciation, which reflect quite closely those that many ordinands ask themselves, including “Why me!?”. She goes on to talk about what happens after Mary declares her obedience to God’s will, and specifically about the joy of Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45). “Mary realises that God has not just asked a great thing of her, he has also given her a great thing” and that part of this gift is her common calling with Elizabeth, to which their miraculous pregnancies testify.
Being an ordinand isn’t so very different to being pregnant. You’re carrying something precious (your calling to serve Christ as a priest), can at times be very uncomfortable (there’s stuff asked of you that makes life painful), can feel incredibly lonely (not even a long-suffering spouse can really share the load, and they’re probably as worried as you), and you must be obedient to a detailed process you may not completely understand (portfolios require all sorts of detailed analysis that is almost beyond understanding, and then someone else arranges a curacy for you)!
For me this last term, it’s been a lonely journey. Cut off from parish life by the request that I focus on my studies, I’ve felt isolated at college by being the ‘odd one out’ (as the only one currently attempting a ‘mixed-mode MA’) and a strange unwillingness to take part in the regular and extra-curricular activities that would draw me into relationship with fellow ordinands. It’s like I’ve got too good at saying ‘no’ I’ve forgotten to say ‘yes’ occasionally, and the cost has been a painful isolation from those I’m journeying with.
Revd Ally goes on to say
One of the greatest gifts that God gives to us is each other. And it is so often the case that we can only truly find joy, or at least, fulfillment, in our responsibilities when we share those burdens that weigh heavily on us.
She’s right, I’ve been missing out on the joy of being an ordinand, focusing purely on ‘obeying the call’ and the sense I can’t possibly do the really scary bits of what is expected of me, and this is something I need to rectify in 2013. Just as Christ was incarnate through Mary’s pregnancy, so I need to hold Christ incarnate within me, ’embracing and enjoying’ with others what Jesus is doing within my life and obedience to his call, so that that it might live joyfully now (like a squirming foetus eager for the world), and be incarnate in my future ministry seeking to recognise Christ in others, and make him recognisable to others.