Monday, 22 September 2008
An Oldie But a Goodie
The main speaker at our Diocesan Ministry Conference was Alistair Hendry. Alistair was at St. John's College with me, and after a time as parish priest and counselor is now the Ministry Advisor in the Diocese of Christchurch. As is usual for these events, what Alistair had to say perfectly complemented what I had to say, though neither of us knew the content of the other's addresses until we sat in the audience and heard it. We both, in our own ways, spoke of the message of Jesus as an invitation to a particular kind of life and of ministry as an invitation to others to live that life. Alistair was fairly scathing of the lets count bums on pews school of evangelism, and mentioned his own striving for visible success as a young parish priest and the effect that this had had on his mental, emotional and spiritual health. It was good stuff, but one thing he said hit me like the bang of the sharp corner of a cupboard door on my head in the morning, knocking me awake. He spoke of Jesus' parable of the wedding feast - the one where all the layabouts and street people are dragged in and given a seat at the banqueting table. He said that apart from the obvious meaning about the inclusiveness of the Kingdom of Heaven, it has a reference to our inner lives; to the fact that all the bits of us that we are ashamed of and would rather not acknowledge are invited into God's presence and given the same dignity and blessing as the bits we are rather proud of.
Like, for example, the testosterone fuelled young vicar knocking the stuffing out of himself and all around him in the pursuit of churchly glory.
I went home and dug out a book - an oldie but a goodie - that I had last read so long ago it made a loud crack when I opened it: Daniel J. Levinson's Seasons Of A Man's Life. Levinson's reasearch led him to a developmental theory for men (later used by Gail Sheehy and applied to all people in Passages). I reread the bits I had underlined twenty years ago, passages relating to early adulthood and its associated tasks and transitions. I thought of myself in my thirties, my successes and failures, my striving and restlessness and all the unresolved energies that powered me. I saw the incompleteness of that younger self, but also how necessary the inconguities of that age were to the completion of my life path. I saw my drive and restlessness for what they were - a gift to myself and to the church. And I was able, with gratitude, to finally leave that younger, more driven version of myself at the banqueting table where he belongs.