This post is the sixth in a series exploring the practice of Drishti (focus on a particular point, traditionally in meditation or yoga poses). Rev. Nicole Havelka, the usual author of this blog, writes about how her ordination anniversary provided a perfect reflection on the practice of Drishti.
Ordinations serve as conduits to the Great Mystery in a way that few other life events do. With the laying on of hands, I felt the physical and energetic weight of so many of my predecessors resting on my shoulders. In forming the words yes on my lips in answer to those weighty vows, I felt the privilege and responsibility of the pastoral role. I recall the tingly sensation in my hands accompanied by a vague sense of loneliness as I officiated solo at communion for the first time.
All these memories flood back today — the anniversary of my ordination — that happened 14 years ago today on Oct. 31. Although people in the United Church of Christ can be ordained into Christian ministry on just about any day, the date upon which mine falls had particular resonance. Oct. 31 is All Hallows Eve, the day before we remember All the Saints — an even more profound reminder of the weight of the pastoral leaders gone before me. In the Protestant liturgical calendar, that day is also Reformation Day when we remember Martin Luther’s calling out Roman Catholic authorities in his 95 Theses. That act later resulted in a major split in the between the Roman and Protestant churches that we still live with today. My ordination date — a day on which one of those Protestant denominations ordained a former Roman Catholic — pulses with a particularly delightful irony.
There’s also nothing like donning the clerical robe and red stole for the sacred rite of another’s ordination to trigger memories of one’s own ordination day and what has ensued since. When attending my friend Beth’s ordination just a few weeks ago, the Rev. Dr. Marti Baumer, a noted thinker about United Church of Christ history and polity, offered an elegant sermon on what ordination means theologically and historically. Rev. Dr. Baumer reminded me of the connectedness of this particular moment in my friend Beth’s ministry to the many, many people who have gone before us. She reminded us that the foundation of the call is the Spirit that calls us and the church that binds us to the exasperating mess of Christian community.
At my own ordination 14 years ago, Dr. Scott Haldeman said in that ordination sermon the words he famously used with me and many friends while in seminary — “It’s not about you.” Being ordained and practicing ministry is only about you, he said, if you can connect to the world’s brokenness by acknowledging your own vulnerability that transforms you into a being capable of living into the call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and stand up for the oppressed.
The vulnerability to which I will admit today is this — in the 14 years I’ve now been ordained I’ve had many, many doubts about how I am living my call. The doubts sometimes creep in about how I handled particular situations. Other times the doubts are about my worthiness to hold such an important role. Much more often, though, those doubts have come when I struggle to find my place, any place really, where I fit in institutional church. As an creative thinker and risk taker, the church has very often rejected my suggestions for living church in new ways. That frequently makes me question whether or not I belong in the exasperating mess at all.
In those dark days, weeks and months of doubt, Rev. Dr. Baumer’s and Dr. Haldeman’s words ring even more true. It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. The Spirit’s call chose me and my creativity, my fierce tendency to question and challenge, my ability to dream and vision beyond what is there. The church 14 years ago chose to affirm that call in ordination whether they like it or not now. Yes, the way I live that call has changed and will change over the course of a lifetime of ministry. But, the still small voice of God, when I’m silent and carefully listening, calls me back over and over again. I can’t understand it intellectually. I don’t even try much anymore. Instead I feel it as a wave of calm that washes over the churning insecurity in my belly. The certainty of the call roots me to the ground through my feet while my head reaches up, steady toward the sky.
Every day of answering a call — whether to the church, to parenting, to art, to teaching and to a million other vocations — is a practice in Drishti. Each of us must focus on the particular of what we are doing while also staying connected to the much broader Spirit’s call.
Here’s what I invite you to practice on this day: Take a minute to close your eyes, sit or lay comfortably and scan the entirety of your body. What does insecurity and doubt feel like in your body? Note where it goes in your body; perhaps even describe what it might look like visually. Now feel into the opposite — certainty, surety. What does that feel like, look like, in your body. Alternate between those feelings in your body. After a minute of resting with those feelings, open your eyes and take a moment to write down what you experienced.
Deep in the fiber of muscle and the hardness of bone your call is embedded. How can you practice calling it forth this day and everyday?