Lately I have begun the work of mining my own spiritual journey for new insights as to what in the world God might have been thinking when God called me into the priesthood. It might simply be the fact that new calls present new opportunities to think deeply about the space God occupies in our lives and the spaces we occupy in God. Whatever the presenting circumstance, I have been retracing my journey and (re)discovering some interesting things about me and God.
There are people who have always wanted to be priests. Maybe they grew up in a church with a great priest or had one in their family. Maybe they read a book by a prominent pastor that changed the course of their lives and they began thinking seriously about the vocation of Holy Orders. Maybe someone identified their call at an early age. They likely carefully organized their life to reach the goal of priesthood – picking the right major in undergrad, going to the right church, choosing the right seminary, meeting the right people. There’s nothing wrong with that. As Episcopalians, we believe deeply that the Holy Spirit is just as efficacious in careful planning and structure as in extemporaneous expression and spontaneity.
My story is something a bit different. At different points of my life, I wanted to be an architect, a teacher, a politician, a mail carrier, and what my 6-year-old mind could only describe as a “businessman.” Priesthood was the last thing on my mind, and yet here I am. I don’t know that I chose to be a priest so much as God swindled me into it. As challenging as it can be at times, it’s the best trick God has ever played on me.
When I consider this bit of art from the Drogo Sacramentary, I think about a Jesus who, even after the Resurrection, still needed guidance to follow the plan of God. Most images of the Ascension that I have seen show Jesus floating up into the clouds with his arms open confidently as if he is a concert tenor who has just hit a high-C at the end of his performance and he is soaking up the adoration of the crowd below.
This Jesus is a bit different, though. It almost looks like he needs help from the Father to make this last step on his earthly journey. What we know from the Gospels is that the bodily resurrection of Jesus meant that Jesus took all of himself into heaven – flesh, scars, and all. So much of the attention of the Ascension often focuses on the crowd below who is certainly reliving the trauma of losing their teacher and friend.
This little piece of art speaks to me because it shows a less confident, more human side of Jesus – one who might be stumbling through the plan of salvation, but walking through it nonetheless.
An exercise I started a few years ago and that I redo every now and then is to draw the timeline of my life as a path or river. I mark important events – baptism, going away to college, getting a new job, the death of my grandfather, moving far away from my closest friends after seminary. Smooth water, forests, rapids, and damns depict pictorially what I feel emotionally about these life events. It’s helpful to take stock of life every now and then. What I discover every time is how what feels like random stumbling looks ordered and planned, as if someone far bigger and wiser than I is holding the reins.
A stumbling, slightly-less-confident Jesus is helpful to consider when I reflect on my own life in God. I sometimes lack the confidence I feel like I should have, and yet God still calls me, supports me, and leads me along the path God has prepared for me.
A Prayer for Today
Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Can you see the hand of God more easily looking backwards in your life than you can in the moment?
Paula Branshaw Carlson says
A wonderful reflection. My father who entered seminary in his mid thirties left a lucrative position with an insurance firm in Texas and packed his bags for Nashota WI. His family at the time and probably my mother too, thought he was crazy. He once told me that a calling is like a still small voice in the back of your head that continues to get louder until you can no longer ignore it. I have never forgotten that. He died when he was far too young but made a lasting impression on all who knew him. God Bless you in your journey.
Marcus G. Halley says
And surely his ministry will continue ripples of compassion into eternity.
Allen Gradnigo says
We completed my first Local Discernment Committee meeting on Tuesday. Your words are meaningful and timely to me. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you continually.
Marcus G. Halley says
I remember those days. God bless on on your journey ahead. Mine did and continues to take my completely be surprise.
Richard Rutherford says
Thank you, Rev Marcus. So helpful. We all so need God’s guidance, even the human side of Jesus.