Once upon a time a colleague said something like this to me: "Over the years serving God in a local congregation, we clergy each leave our mark. Some of our marks are obvious, others are more subtle and nuanced. And when we leave a faith community, some of our marks remain while others disappear as is necessary."
While reading Padraig O' Tuama's spiritual memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, I have started to wonder about the various markings I have left among the people of the churches I have served? There have been times when I have wounded them, I know. What kind of mark does that inflict? How long does it last? There have been a few blessings, too as well as a lot of time spent simply being present for: joys and sorrows, births and deaths, baptisms and weddings, council meetings and service projects.
O Tuama, a poet as well as theologian, includes this at the close of one chapter. "In the Name" evokes some of what I have been wondering about as I ponder the markings I have shared and received over the years.
In the name of goodness, of love and of broken community
In the name of meaning, of feeling and I hope you don't screw me
In the name of darkness and light and ungraspable twilight
In the name of mealtimes and sharing and caring by firelight
In the name of action, of peace and of human redemption
In the name of eating, of drinking and table confession
In the name of sadness, regret and holy obsession
In the holy name of anger, the spirit of aggression
In the name of forgive and forget and I hope I get over this
In the name of fathers and mothers and unholy spirits
In the name of beauty and broken and beaten up daily
In the name of seeing our creeds and believing in maybe
We gather here, a roomful of strangers
and speak of our hopeland, and talk of our danger
to make sense of thinking, to authenticate lives
to humanise feelings and stop telling lies
In the name of philosophy, of theology and who gives a damn
In the name of employment and study and finding new family
In the name of passions, our lovings and indecent obsessions
In the name of prayer, of worship and demon possession
In the name of solitude, of quiet and holy reflection
In the name of lost, the lonely and without direction
In the name of the early and the late and the wholly ineffectual
In the name of the straight and the queer, transgender and bisexual
In the name of bootclogs, and boobjobs and erectile dysfunction
In the name of schizophrenia, hysteria and obsessive compulsion
In the name of Jesus and Mary and the mostly silent Joseph
In the name of speaking to ourselves saying 'this is more than I can cope with'
In the name of touchup, and breakup and of breakdown and weeping
In the name of therapy and Prozac and of full-hearted breathing
In the name of sadness and madness and years since I've smiled
In the name of the Unknown, the Alien, and the Wholly-in-Exile
In the name of the named and the unnamed and the names of the nameless
In the name of the prayers that repeat "I wish I could change this"
In the name of goodness and kindness and intentionality
In the name of harbour and shelter and family
A few years back an alienated distant relative popped up from out of nowhere and started to electronically harass me about some of my bad theology back in the day. Mostly it was this soul's brokenness speaking so I let it a lot of the vitriol wash over me and slip away. But part of it stuck because I have always been driven by grace even when I didn't know how best to share it. There were years when my actions and words were too harsh. Too judgmental. Too aloof. To be sure, I regret these failings and have tried to atone for them as time moves forward. The 12 Steps make it clear that part of our deep healing has to do with making amends. When we can own how we have hurt another - and share our grief without blame or excuse - something humbling and cleansing can be born. It creates the possibility of a transformed relationship - and this is holy ground. But, sadly, not everyone is ready or able to let go and let God's grace shape the present. Some have identities too deeply defined by their wounds to let them go and some wouldn't know who they were if there wasn't someone else to blame.
O Tuama's poem - and memoir - are evoking a host of sacred memories. The good news is that I have experienced how God's grace doesn't quit even when other people give up on us. Or we give up on ourselves. And this is an authentic blessing.
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