Being A Priest Part 2: “Broken Open”

Read the first post in this series, “Being A Priest.”

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“…people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” Rachel Evans

“All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” Ian Morgan Cron

structure-626872_1280Pain and Brokenness. In a class with Dr. Joyce Mercer at Virginia Theological Seminary we explored the cumulative effect of trauma on clergy. Each of us carries our own brokenness with us and we also experience the brokenness of those we serve. Add that up over time and the weight is cumulative and can break the strongest if you and I stay open to the pain and suffering of others, of ourselves and of the world. The first rector I worked for shut down on pain. First he stopped paying attention to his own and then he stopped paying attention to the pain of his people. He surrounded himself with people who protected him but he became a poor reflection of his former self. I always wondered why that was so? I think pain was at the source of his disconnect.

I don’t think for a minute that God inflicts us with experiences so we can learn what it means to hurt. God doesn’t need to. All we have to do is love and live and inevitably pain will come our way. Brokenness is different. James Allison writes in his book “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay” that the experience of being broken began to be seen in such a way as to become restorative. Allison writes that the experience of being a gay man, a priest, and rejected by his Catholic community invited him to experience and explore the brokenness of his own life that had to do with more than his sexual orientation, policies of the Roman Catholic Church, and love; but not less than those either. This had to do with the complete dismantling of his understanding of himself and the values upon which he had based his existence. Whatever those had been proved to be false under the pressure of his life experiences. Realizing they needed to go became the moment he learned that to live was to experience his own broken-openedness. He was in pieces and at first tried to frantically hold all the pieces together like Humpty-Dumpty after the fall. But he was unable. So he pleaded with God and God began to help him construct a new existence based upon his brokenness.

The challenge of Alison’s book was to examine how we’ve also been a source of pain and brokenness for others. His argument, an argument held by many, is that when we are broken open we are just as likely to lash out towards others, as we are to be empathetic.   And as insensitive as the Roman Catholic Church could be, he wrote, is also as insensitive as he was capable of being. So when we are broken open we get to see the whole picture of ourselves; not only how we’ve been broken, but also how we’ve contributed to the brokenness of others. He would then say that our brokenness is complete and now ready for the process of being restored by God from the insight out as all good healing is meant to go. As priests and clergy it’s not our calling to lead with our brokenness. Perhaps it’s more we stay continuously aware of that space within each of us that periodically cries out for healing and wholeness. And through our pain invite others to healing.

A Fable

It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The eagle, too, was drenched, and his spirits dampened as well, for his mate lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. There was no way to keep her dry, and the eagle looked on with despair as her life slowly drained away. His tears mingled with the rain when she died.

It was raining in the forest. The eagle could not stand the rain. It brought back memories too painful for him to bear. He rose up from the trees, hoping, in flight to escape his thoughts. Higher and higher he climbed until finally he broke through the dark clouds into the dazzling sunlight that lay beyond. As the warm sun dried his wings, he suddenly realized that the healing sun had been there all the time his mate had needed it. The pain of knowledge learned too late was more than he could stand, and there were tears for the sun to dry.

eagle-1260079_1280It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The rabbit, too, was drenched, and her spirits dampened as well, for her child lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. She poured out her sad tale to all who would listen, but the other creatures, too, were victims of the rain, and none could help. An eagle happened by, and the rabbit began to tell her tale to him. But she had hardly started speaking when the eagle suddenly lifted the rabbit’s dying child onto his wings and began to circle quickly up into the dark and stormy clouds on an errand he did not take time to explain.

 *   *   *

Our pain may teach us how to heal. (Armstrong)

 Dedicated to Fr. Holy Joe (Roy Hendricks), that ramblin, Jamaican lovin, healin, man of God.

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

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