I have been a longtime fan of the blog Dirty Sexy Ministry, written by American Episcopal priests Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel. I couldn’t help but like it simply because of its name, but I was quickly hooked by both the rawness and sass of Laurie and Mary’s writing. They courageously name hurt and betrayal where they see them but they also don’t take themselves too seriously. However, what I like most is that they do not present a banally cheerful view of ministry but neither do they engage in self-indulgent ranting. It is simply a beautiful reflection on priesthood and life in the church, on the inseparablity of brokenness and grace.
Last year they published a book, Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy and the Search for Fabulous Heels. It is split into two parts in which Mary and Laurie each share their stories, though as one might expect, their stories interweave in the way friends’ lives do. Although the writing is clear and full of rich imagery, it does not make for particularly light reading because of the way they face head on the deep disappointments and heartbreaks they have experienced. Bereavements, infertility and adoption, clergy bullying, divorce and unhealthy relationships all form part of their journey as priests and as friends. They do not shy away from the messiness of their lives; rather, they illustrate the danger which comes from ignoring it, glossing over it, or putting on a brave face and trying to live up to other people’s expectations of womanhood and priesthood.
And yet the book is written with a strong message of hope. It is true hope, the kind of hope that can only come after a long difficult journey through the Lenten desert, after sitting in the darkness of Good Friday and after bearing the intolerable emptiness of Holy Saturday. They are two people who, like so many of us, have walked the way of the cross but serve and proclaim the love of the God for whom death is not the last word.
The value that the book has held for me is in the way that Laurie and Mary chart their path first to find, and then to celebrate, their identity as priests. As I come to the end of the first year of ministry and reflect on who I am becoming as an ordained person, I felt a wonderful companionship through their writing. I suspect that this will be one of those books I return to again and again when I’m feeling lost and alone. Their struggles are ones I can identify with. Their words of wisdom are ones I needed to hear. Reading Where God Hides Holiness felt like curling up on a porch swing with a cold glass of white wine in the heat of an American southern summer evening and talking with a friend who knows me even better than I know myself, watching the sun set behind the mountains and feeling peace settle in my soul. And like any time spent with a dear friend, it ended too soon.