What It Means to be a Priest

I get asked by children all the time what my collar means, and shortly afterward what it means to be a priest. Children aren’t the only ones who don’t really understand what it means for a person to be a priest, so I wanted to take a bit of time to discuss it.

For me, being a priest means that I am a servant of God’s people–which, for me, means all people both inside and outside the church. I am truly invested in the spiritual wellbeing of the people I serve and come into contact with. Sometimes this takes the form of a parishioner or friend, and sometimes it’s a stranger. Sometimes it’s sitting down and listening to someone’s pain, and other times it’s saying a silent prayer as I pass a car accident. My response is the same: presence.

I am present for God’s people in a way that is very intentional. I am here to serve, to listen, to guide. I am here to open my heart and mind to another person, and to walk their path with them while they need me. Of course, I also have my own family and friends that I attend to outside of my own health–but standing ready, with an open heart, is what characterizes a priestly soul for me.

Others have mentioned that it is the sacramental life of the church, and while I find that important as well, the sacraments all point us toward the same end goal: love. Through the sacraments, I am safeguarding the spiritual lives of my people. Through the sacraments, I am bringing the presence and love of God into the lives of others. Standing in that tension–between heaven and earth; between God and humanity; this is the life of a priest.

So what does it mean to be a priest? It means being open and ready to serve God, through people, in whatever form that takes in each situation. It’s having a heart large enough to love all of God’s people, and to truly want love and spiritual wellness for them.

A Poetic Reflection on Light & Love

I sit here in my simple house, and find myself caught by the light flowing into the room through my blue curtains.

Each thread is visible, each shade of the curtains colors fade in and out of shapes created by pleats—shadows both deepen and disappear as your eyes travel over the bare body of the fabric.

My cat sleeps only a few feet away from this colorful and minimalistic dance; the same light is highlighting each hair on her body as she breathes taking her own part in the dance.

My eyes are glued, my mind is clear, and my heart rests to take in the sight.

This light that God has created, that gives form and color, and beauty to everything we can see, is given to me.

In this light is infinite love and compassion; a balm for the cracks of my heart, but also a window for my soul the recognize the God that is within and around and beyond myself and all that is created.

In this light, there is ultimate love and possibility.

Most humbly of all, and hardest to fathom and understand, I am the light…and the light is me….and the light is everyone.

I’ve been found by beauty.

I’ve been found by transcendence.

I’ve been found by stillness and love.

A Journey In Prayer

Over the past few years, I’ve struggled to have a prayer life that was meaningful to me. Being drawn deeply by liturgical traditions and monastic spirituality, I’ve come to find my prayer life to be written for me in the form of liturgical prayer and daily offices. I’ve pushed myself to wake up early and say multiple offices a day–sometimes pushing myself to chant them out of a sense of traditional duty. While this has taught me much about prayer, and is a beautiful practice in our tradition, I’ve used it to rob myself of an authentic prayer life that opens and inspires my heart and leads me closer to God.

It wasn’t until recently–very recently–that I noticed this and decided to push myself beyond the boundaries that I had created. I’ve looked within, and listened to the voice that calls me to a deeper part of myself, and found the beginning of a new journey in prayer. Rather than praying the offices, I’ve found myself reading through the Gospel stories and meditating on them. I read them, and watch them in my imagination; I observe what I see and the perspective I have in the meditation; I observe how I relate to Jesus and the disciples, and try to imagine what they must be feeling in those moments. This practice has proven to be much more meaningful to me, and has shed light on things I never thought about–such as why I always see myself at a distance from Jesus.

I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’m not really a morning person. While I’m generally lively and positive in the morning, I’m not in a mood that is conducive to prayer and meditation. Over the years, I’ve almost forced myself to have a morning prayer service–early mornings even, to be more monastic–and that really wasn’t fair to my spirit. I’ve come to learn that having a late afternoon or evening time set apart for prayer is much more meaningful to who I am as an individual. Being aware of how my body naturally functions in this way has brought myself to a deeper awareness of who I am as a creation of God, and has brought me closer to my creator.

While I don’t think there is anything wrong with the offices or traditional methods of praying, I think it’s wrong to force or limit ourselves to them based solely on tradition. God is so much bigger, and he created us to be the unique expression of his love that we are. We should listen to that, and seek to use it to connect back with God. It is God whom we should learn from, not the pushy “voice of perfection” in our heads. That voice only leads to being self-critical and unloving. Prayer is meant to be a relationship–a connection–to God, and we should take the time, to open the hearts God has given us, to that relationship.

Christian Honesty

Something that I don’t think is talked about enough , is the feeling of doubt that leads to unbelief in Christianity–and more than likely in every spiritual or religious tradition in some way.

Honesty is a pillar of Christianity–so much so that even those who do not practice the Christian faith are aware of it’s centrality in our faith life. More often than not, however, we put on a holy mask and parade around like nothing effects us because we have Jesus and we believe in the Bible. While that’s great if it’s true, I’d venture to say that more of us have more doubts than we appear to have.

I’ve been a priest for six years now, and a spiritual seeker for many years before that. I spent so much time trying to find right belief and the right practice–being told by seemingly spiritual people that once I put my faith in Jesus, he would take care of everything else. The advice I was always dished out: just believe. Just believe? That’s a tall order in a faith that preaches love and is known for their condemnation, or for a faith that proclaims that a first century Rabbi was the divine son of God–the second person of a trinity, that’s really a unity, but not really at the same time–who died and rose again.

Of course, I’m not saying that these things aren’t true, because they are essential to my faith as a Jesus Follower…but I am saying that it’s okay to doubt it sometimes. Faith tells me that putting my trust in this person called Jesus doesn’t mean that my questions and doubts disappear. Faith tells me that, even though I don’t understand (and sometimes when I straight up don’t believe) my faith in God is not diminished. This is a vast universe, and life is too complex for us to have all the answers to anything–including our own scriptures–and that’s okay!

It’s time for us to be honest about what is going on in our hearts and minds. Jesus’s followers had doubts when the events of the Bible were taking place, and they still walked along the path Jesus led them down. Being able to express these beliefs and vocalize our questions is essential to our mental and spiritual health. It keeps us from feeling like we’re drowning, or inherently evil, or like God is condemning us to hell because we can’t accept everything like the smiling seemingly-spiritual people around us. It’s time for Christianity to be honest, and to see where God–who we believe makes his home with the doubting, the hurting, the broken, and the outcast–takes us. I bet, if we can have the humility to be honest, the soul of the world could start coming back to life with love.

May it be so.
Amen.

My Journey With Paul

For those of you who know me personally, you’ll know that I am known for my dislike of St. Paul. Throughout the years, I’ve seen nothing but an arrogant ultra-conservative man who pushes his views onto others in unhealthy ways. Also over the years, however, has been a small voice, beneath my own judgmental voice, inviting me to get to know St. Paul more. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve begun to see a new side of St. Paul that I can appreciate and resonate with–thanks to a series by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM.

Paul, as I’m seeing lately, was a major figure for religious reform. He was proud of his culture and his faith of Judaism, and it was this deep religious fervor that led him on in his ministry from Christ. Circumcision, along with many of the other major Jewish laws and practices, were challenged and shown to be ultimately limited because it wouldn’t result in coming closer to God. Richard Rohr brought up a very deep point that resonates with me well–what would St. Paul say about the way we practice Christianity today?

There is so much discussion about the exoteric (or outer) dimension of the Christian faith–determining how one is ‘saved,’ what salvation means, who’s in and out, if communion is literal or symbolic, etc. While I admire the spirit that leads these discussions, I find them useless in the end. Christianity is not supposed to be about making our way to God. We have, however, created a faith in Jesus’ name that encourages people to constantly try to get things right so that we can earn our way to God.

Our truth lies in the esoteric (or inner) dimension of Christianity. Through my acceptance of Christ into my life, and allowing him to be the center of that life, I am transformed and brought into the eternal reality of God from which I came. Reality, with a capital ‘R,’ is God–the source from which we begin and ultimately return.

Both of these points are ideas that St. Paul stood for thousands of years ago, and ideas that I feel called to stand for today. My role as a priest, is to bring others to the knowledge and love of that ultimate reality that we call God. The force that loves and moves us into being, and through each moment of our lives, offers itself to us in the depths of our own being. Though our nature is fallen and broken, the invitation from God that calls beyond that comes through Jesus. This is the essence of Christianity.

So my journey with St. Paul has led me deeper into myself, and deeper into who Christ is for me. What is my true relationship with Christ? How has my own theology and denominational leanings legalized my faith, rather than allowing me to be set free through the mystery of Christ? How can I break free from the parts of my theology that are legalistic, and live deeper into God’s call for me to rest in the reality of who God is?

The Meaning of Advent

To many in American society, the season of Advent is virtually unknown. In stores everywhere you can find Advent calendars, candles, and wreaths providing a glimpse that Advent is something special in the Christian calendar. With the beginning of Advent this Sunday, I think it’s worth taking some time to explore the spirituality and meaning of Advent before we enter into the season’s graces and mysteries.

The word Advent comes from the Latin “Adventus” which means a coming or breaking in of something new–much as a plant begins to grow and break into the world through the soil. During the season of Advent, we enter into the rest and quietness of our mind and soul to wait for the coming of the light of God through the person of Jesus Christ. This is why we read passages found in Isaiah–written during a time of exile for the Jewish people, who were awaiting hope and new life.

In the time of a Pandemic, Advent is extremely important for all of us to return to our souls. This is a time for us to accept the darkness that we find ourselves in, and the darkness that we’ve been through in our lives; this is also a time for us to look for the light of Christ that is growing within us, and that has brought us out of our past darkness. Through meditation, fasting, service to others, and time spent with family and friends, we allow the light of Christ to grow and expand into our world as we slowly transform this world into the Kingdom of God.

So what do we do to celebrate the season of Advent? Advent is a time that invites us to really examine ourselves, and sift through our priorities to put our spiritual lives and principles back into it’s proper place. Where are we being loving, and where are we not? Where are we being selfish, and where are we giving too much? How can we be a conduit of God’s light in the world?

During this Advent, I invite you to rest, spend time with Christ, and to find stillness in God and his deep love for you.

Monastic Memoir: Silence

I’ve spent the past few weeks in silence–not complete silence, but having long periods of intentional silence each day. The silence began with allowing my words, body, and mind to rest and just be. This silence was highly refreshing and deeply needed. It allowed me to enter into a state of rest, and to sit in the presence of God. Silence is nothing new to me. I’ve spent time in intentional silence for years, since I first felt the call to living a monastic life. But this week, something new occurred. There is a new type of silence within and around me suddenly.

This new silence feels almost like a force, and energy, or complete stillness. This stillness is not empty; rather, it is filled with presence–the presence of God. There is no talking here, there are no expectations, there is only being-ness with God.

This new silence is not heavy or forceful, but light, flowing, and tender. I’ve become aware of it’s presence at all times (even though I’m not always conscious of it). This silence flows around, beneath, and between all sound and action. From this silence, all is born. To this silence, everything eventually releases.

Having been given this gift of silence, I have become more aware of the presence of God within me, rather than outside of me; I have been given a space that almost feels carved out of time to sit a simply be. I can feel God drawing me closer into this call to just be. Be. Such a beautiful word. And just like all words, it begins, and releases once again, into silence.

Knowing the Unknowable: Seeking the Fullness of God

Throughout my life, I have had a continuous journey of faith. I did not begin my faith journey in Christianity. In fact, I was born into a Non-religious family whose only comments of faith or God came from cultural references of what God supposedly told humans never to do, and how Karma was a bitch that would get you back when you were bad. Funny, huh? I’m grateful for this in a way, though, because it allowed me to find my own way to God.

My road was not laid before me, nor was it lying there in an inviting way. I feel that I was thrown on to my path. You see, when I was around the age of 7 or 8, I lost my paternal grandmother–my best friend. This woman was the apple of my eye, the person that saw the most light in me and in whom I saw the most love. She was a comfort in my harsh and sometimes dark world. She was my everything, and one day she was just gone. I had no idea what death truly was until this point in my life. All I knew was that my grandmother was here, and then she was lying in a casket in the front of the room, and I would never actually see her again. This broke me–in fact, it’s something I deal with to this day (especially when I lose people who are close to me). So where did I turn now that I felt I lost my identity? Where can I find answers to these things I have heard about in passing–heaven, ghosts, next lives? Well, pretty much since I was born I was obsessed with witches. I loved them in every movie there was, I played them, I quoted them; they were my life. So, I turned to Wicca. I learned one day that there are people who identify as witches in this world, and I could actually be one! My heart sprung to life knowing this, and I took my first step on my faith journey. In Wicca, I learned about deities, the earth and its cycles, meditation, prayer, and so many other spiritual concepts. As the years went on, I began exploring other religions–Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity. This led me to be the person I am today.

So why do I mention this rather abbreviated spiritual biography? Because these experiences have taught me about who God is and where he can be found. My image of God has changed as me and my faith have developed over time. The same being that I prayed to as a Wiccan, the same being that I felt moving in my spirit as a Muslim, is the same being that I proclaim in Jesus today. God, as I’ve experience him/her, transcends all of these titles that we put on faith traditions–titles that are supposed to be used to give us a way of identifying with other people, not a way of identifying God. God, the creator of this vast, beautiful, diverse universe, is a vast, beautiful and diverse God. He/She takes the shape of you and me, and he/she transcends any shape or characteristic that we can imagine. That’s the beauty of God. Sometimes, I think we think of God as being like water–transparent and taking the form of it’s container. But God doesn’t take the form of our religious containers, we are called to take the shape of the uncontainable God.

You see, God is not binary. We oversimplify things to be black and white so that we can have a sense of control, of undertsanding in this world. But God will never be understood. In fact, in my tradition, Jesus doesn’t tell us who God is in conrete terms or laws. Jesus shows us who God is through stories and metaphors. This God, that can only begin to be understood through abstract stories and poetry is the God that I know deep within my heart. He/She moves in my spirit, and calls me out of my tragic, seemingly organized, angry, and unresistingly sinful self to the radical love of another–another who sees the same God differently; another who calls God by a different name; another who walks the path that this same God has called them to, but is nevertheless different from my own path. In my own faith, this is also the beauty of Jesus, because Jesus, to me, embodied God in a uniquely human way–in the way I am called to follow in example.

We, too, as beings made in the image of God, are called to transcend our humanity–our limitations, our racisms, our cultural biases, our own views of gender and sexuality. We are reflections of this invisible God, and our behaviors in this world should reflect that holy mystery. God isn’t what I make him/her, and my faith is never about what I make him/her. My faith journey, my own personal call and invitation into the heart of God and the other, is about what this beautiful, transcendant, and radically loving God is making me. With each prayer, with each moment spent seeking God in contemplation and other spiritual practices, I am being steeped more and more into this amazing God, with the hope of knowing him/her more and more as I walk through life.

I invite you, as well as my own soul, to start to seek God in his/her fullness–not to limit God, or what God can do. Let us seek the mystery that calls us forward in love, and allow that love so to re-form our hearts and minds that we can begin to live into our divine image ever more.

Amen.

Unity: The Path to Peace

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but particularly over the last decade or so things seem to be developing into extremes in polarity. The middle ground seems to be disappearing, and has very few voices behind it (at least in the media we typically use). This attitude of polarity builds walls and deep trenches around “us” and pushes us further away from the dangerous “those” over there. These thoughts and attitudes lead us deeper into division, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and so many other traps of evil that we claim to want to end.

So why don’t we? Fear.

This may seem depressing, but my point with this is to not allow ourselves to become divisive. Peace, if that is truly our goal, is achieved not in finally pushing out the evil “those” and triumphing into a perfect, sinless, uniformed world. Peace is achieved through unity. We must know where we stand–we must know our place in the world. But, when we begin to draw our boxes and dig our moats around our version of truth, we push the other away and they then become “wrong.” The world begins to look like us–our skin color, our gender, our rules, our politics and religious beliefs. When there is a large group of people living under and promoting their respective version of this divisiveness, our world plunges into the polarity we are experiencing today.

Unity, on the other hand, says that what I believe, how I choose to conduct myself according to my values, and the truth that vibrates within my soul is valid and true. The difference here? A person seeking unity and peace accepts their truth without forcing the other out. There is no “us” and “those” in a unitive mentality–there is only an ever evolving “we.” There are no walls here, no lines dug into the sand, no moats. Here we acknowledge the things that make us uncomfortable–the things we don’t understand–and we seek to find peace in that, knowing that there is a greater love at work. Unity says “you think differently from me, you look differently, you believe things that I don’t believe, but we are both human.”

Even as a priest in Interfaith Ministry, I struggle with this. I’m human. I sometimes can’t see beyond my own Christian tradition, but that doesn’t mean that my tradition is the only version of truth acceptable. When my beliefs and values are called into question or confronted, I feel threatened too–it’s basic psychology. But, the path to peace, to unity, is not easy. We have to learn to overcome ourselves, to take down our walls, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge the other. We must be able to see the common thread that connects us with the rest of humanity. We must be able to participate in this vast world of differences and abide in love. This love, this common thread, this underlying creative energy–which I refer to as God–is the unity that we all seek. In fact, the Christian and Hindu belief in a trinitarian monotheism reveals God as community in unity–many, yet one. When we can find ourselves absorbed in that–by whatever name you call it–we will find ourselves at the deepest point of our souls, and deep within the heart of the other simultaneously. When we can begin this work of unity, divisiveness will start to wither, and peace will begin to dawn in our world.

May it be so. Amen.