There are times when I, even amidst all the cancer stuff, look ahead and get absolutely giddy with anticipation of whatever pastoral vocation may lie ahead. I'm never so naive as to think such a vocation won't have its perils and pitfalls, but the idea of being in the church, living out a ministry that begins with presence and patience and listening and reflecting and waiting for that little twinge that says "now, the Lord is doing that new thing -- watch! pay attention!" gets a little thrilling, particularly for someone whose existence has been a bit peripatetic up to now.
Then there are the times that make me shake my head and say "You're kidding, right? You? What makes you think you're ever going to get there?"
Seldom is there any one thing that makes me go there. And it's not so much that that's a sad or frustrated place, as much as it is a place that makes me take a deep breath (as every person, nay even ever sentient being, even those out there in the universe whose physiology doesn't even require breathing, must do on occasion) and see myself as the most oddly-shaped peg (nothing nearly so simple as "square," not me) possible in a world of varying sizes of round holes.
For example: for our section this past Thursday in my Sacraments independent study, the assignment was to prepare and deliver a prayer of Thanksgiving Over the Water, part of the baptismal liturgy. It could have been one of the prayers from the Book of Common Worship, it could have been from some other liturgical source, from another denomination or none at all; it could have been an original prayer (and I had written one the previous week, so that was already available). Monday during my chemo transfusion I took to the web, to make one last sweep, so to speak, and see if anything promising turned up before I went back to one of the above. I did find a compelling responsorial prayer from an Australian prayer book, which looked like a strong possibility to use.
Then, to my surprise, turned up a version of such a prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, set for intonation. Of course I had to go for it. The issue was settled before I even knew what I was doing.
In a world where the church is constantly under pressure to adapt and change and morph boldly into the future, where a whole Presbyterian organization is devoted to figuring out what "NEXT Church" looks like (they just had a big meeting this past week), where the past is something to be treated as if it carried bubonic plague, I'm off in my little corner chanting prayers like an addict. Who am I kidding? They don't hold meetings devoted to "PAST Church," and I'm off chanting almost by reflex. I'm not that far from fifty. My middle year of seminary is getting whacked around by cancer treatment. My car CD player is far more likely to be occupied by Coltrane or Mendelssohn than by whoever this Mumford & Sons outfit is. I am not a polished or highly refined physical presence by anybody's standards. I'm not what anyone would call a particularly inspiring dynamic or outgoing leader type (my style, such as it is, is rather more quiet with much question-asking). I'm not particularly well-connected. I don't have any grand visions for the future. Who am I kidding?
And yet the fool's errand continues. There is no turning back, not because I haven't thought very hard about it at times, but because the thing, whatever it is, is still out there. I'm less certain what "the thing" is anymore; I still imagine some form of pastoral calling, but my life has been so whacked around of late that I have to be open to different avenues by which such a vocation may be lived out. Whatever that might be, I'm still on the path towards it, wherever that is.
I'm still here because every now and then my mind explodes in class, or in chapel, or just sitting and reading or talking -- not a destructive, waste-laying explosion, more like the Big Bang, with pockets of life springing out where there was only chaos and void before, and I know that another piece of the puzzle, another building block, has fallen into place.
I'm still here because I cannot get free of that sense of vocation, acting much like a particularly strong undertow, pulling me in directions I would not have imagined before, drowning me in a hope and a passion from which I have no desire to be rescued.
I'm still here because I can't imagine being anywhere else. Even if I don't see anyplace for the bizarrely-shaped peg that I am to fit into.