I’ve just spent most of today sitting in the public gallery listening in on the debates and discussions at the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod, its governing body.
I don’t know why I do it. It always leaves me feeling melancholy and restless and generally uneasy with myself. But it’s almost an addiction. I can’t bring myself to leave.
The sun is shining and it’s one of those rare warm Scottish summer days, so I took Judy for a long walk to calm my anxiety and clear my head.
The more I walked, the more I allowed the evening sun to comfort me, the more I felt my self return.
Months ago, after a difficult provincial meeting, I broke down in a session with my spiritual director.
‘What is this doing to your spirit?’ she asked (or words to that effect).
‘It’s killing it,’ I said.
‘Then be careful. Be very, very careful. Because God does not call you to death of spirit. Maybe you need to take a step back. Maybe your ministry is elsewhere.’
I resisted that advice. And it has been to my detriment.
I realised today that my relationship with the Church — and I think I probably mean Church as institution generally rather than the Scottish Episcopal Church specifically — my relationship with the Church is like an abusive relationship. I see it for what it could be, not what it is. I desperately want to fix it. And for the last year, as my involvement at the provincial level has increased, I have been killing my spirit shouting into the void, pleading with it to change. And now I am exhausted and hoarse with the effort.
Because it does not listen.
Instead it wounds. It has left bruises which are invisible, scars so deep no one will ever see them, hurts which leave me in permanent agony.
I find myself walking away from these encounters blaming myself. Maybe I should just keep silent. Maybe I should just allow things to be as they are. Maybe I provoked, or threatened, or undermined someone in a position of power. Maybe I deserved that reaction.
And so I return, promising not to do it again. Promising myself, promising the institution, that for the sake of ‘unity’, ‘respect’, ‘mission’, ‘functional diversity’, ‘discernment’, ‘gracious restraint’, or whatever the word of the day is, I will silence my voice for the sake of others.
It never works. Once upon a time, maybe I could hold my tongue. But not so much anymore.
I was having lunch with a friend today and said, slightly glibly, ‘God can be such a sadist’. I was thinking of the prophets. I was thinking that already at this early stage of my ministry, I walk with a limp from wrestling all night with an angel. Or an abusive lover. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s hard to tell the difference.
But I don’t actually think that’s true. Because God does not call us to death of spirit. God calls us to new life. God calls us to walk towards the sunrise.
I may be hobbling into the next stage of my ministry. I may be limping from one flawed, human institution into another flawed, human institution. I may be taking one painful step after another from one situation of injustice into another situation of injustice which is on a level I wouldn’t be able to imagine if I hadn’t glimpsed it first hand.
I am going into a context which I will not be able to fix. A context which will no doubt bring with it heartbreak and tears and frustration and even more limping. I know that. I know that justice will not be a black and white issue. That my words will at times carry weight that will be unbearable and I may well feel I am collapsing under the responsibility. And that at other times, my words will float off on the wind, and I will be hoarse with the effort of shouting.
It has been hard to turn my back on the parts of ministry that have made me less than who I am called to be. But I think I am ready. I think I am ready to face the rising sun.
I may be limping. But at least I can still walk. And today, that in itself feels a blessing.