Each of us are uniquely gifted to be a vessel through which God’s love is known in the world. Often, the way in which God has gifted us and the call God extends to us transcends institutional definitions, boundaries and controls. I share the way this has been made known in my own life as a way of encouraging you to look outside the box for how God might be calling you to be love in the world…..sometimes the answer is right under our nose and has been there the whole time and sometimes it is so obvious we wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that before?”
Priest All Along
I wrote last week about the lightning bolt awareness of how for the past 20+ years I have been a priest and I didn’t even know it! Looking back on the ways in which I have been called to be God’s love in the world, they all take the form of duties frequently associated with a priest – preaching, teaching, healing, counseling, leading, pastoring, serving, ministering. Of course, being raised Catholic, the path to ordination is not open to me (in the Roman Catholic Church anyway), and at this point in my life, even if ordination were made available to women, I don’t think I would pursue it. I prefer to serve as a priest in my own way (rather, the way in which God is leading me to be priest), instead of being subject to the limitations of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church where clericalism frequently reigns over humility and compassion.
A Different Kind of Priest
What does priesthood look like outside the boundaries of tradition? What is a priesthood without hierarchy, patriarchy and clericalism? What is priesthood without a church? As it is currently being revealed to me, for myself personally, it is a priesthood of a different kind, but in truth, it looks very much like a priesthood of the original kind. When I look for a model of priesthood that feels appropriate to me, the example is obvious in Jesus. To me, Jesus represents the quintessential example of what priesthood should look like. What does it mean to be a priest like Jesus?
1) For me, it starts with the clothes. Nowhere in scripture does it describe Jesus as wearing special clothes, in fact, in several instances, he challenges religious leaders who don special vestments (phylacteries) as a way of drawing attention to the way they are better, separate, or more special than ordinary folks. I have a very strong sense that Jesus dressed in the same fashion as the people to whom he was ministering. What that means for me is that I dress in ways appropriate to the occasion. In presiding over weddings, I dress up in ways similar to the guests. In facilitating spiritual formation in circle, I dress casually. When seeing people one-on-one, I wear business casual. And when networking with business professionals, I dress appropriately. There will be no Roman collar or guilded vestments for me.
2) While Jesus sometimes taught in the temple, he was mostly seen ministering to the people where they were at. He moved about the marketplace, in the desert and on the mountain, in people’s homes, teaching, healing, ministering to people where the people were. Jesus was not a member of the official hierarchy of the Jewish temple, instead, he was priest to the people in their midst. A related key point – Jesus did not have a church. Instead, it seemed his church was anywhere he found himself. For me, this means being open to all the ways in which God is calling me to meet people where they are at – and in this day and age, it is often in front of their computer.
3) Jesus’ primary audience was those no longer welcome in the temple and for this he was often condemned. Jesus spent much of his time in the midst of “sinners and tax collectors,” and he often ministered to lepers. Jesus made himself available for those who had been rejected by the Institution in which he was raised. This is highly reflective of the audience God continues to place before me – women and men who no longer feel welcome in the religious institution in which they were raised….and for me, 90 -95% of these folks were raised Catholic.
4) Jesus prayed – a lot, and he taught his disciples how to pray. Before, during and after every ministerial encounter, Jesus can be found in prayer. Prayer, his intimate relationship with God, seemed to be the foundation upon which everything else was built. I can only hope to be following this example that Jesus set.
5) Jesus’ priesthood served to support and satisfy the deepest longing of the human heart – to know that we are loved, and Jesus did this primarily through his loving regard of the people to whom he ministered. Jesus did not judge or condemn the “sinners and tax collectors,” or the sick to whom he ministered. Instead, he helped them to find healing for the deeper spiritual wounds that told them they were anything less than love. Jesus built people up. He empowered them. He gave them dignity and respect. And, he admonished anyone who would treat ANY of God’s people with anything less than love. Jesus did not pile up a burden of tasks or rules that had to be accomplished in order to earn God’s love. He taught that we are loved by God without condition and that when we turn away from God, God is anxiously waiting with open arms for us to come home to the truth of who we are – one with God in love.
How is the truth that God is revealing to you and the gifts God has given you, calling you to step outside the traditional or familiar?