The crowd and the single individual

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Mark 15:6-15

I read the Passion in Mark’s gospel this morning. It is the Palm Sunday reading for Year B.

I was struck by the role the crowd plays in the sentencing of Jesus. And the reason given for Pilate’s handing over Jesus to be crucified, “wishing to satisfy the crowd”. The faceless crowd doing the bidding of the religious leaders against The Single Individual. Jesus stands alone while the crowd shouts for Him to be put to death. The crowd is often an obstacle in the gospels to people meeting Jesus, to being healed, to seeing Him. The crowd is fickle. The Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday reminds us that the crowd acclaimed The Single Individual as King and Messiah.

It is easy to escape into the faceless crowd. And the modern age has made it a virtue to follow the will of the majority. It is easy to do what I am told by those in authority. It is easy to blame and to push the guilt unto someone else – never have to look at myself and my actions. It is easy to escape the single me for the role assigned by the many. The crowd is the opposite of the Single Individual.

During my earthly life that Single Individual calls me to follow Him. As we enter Holy Week, that Individual reminds me that I am called to follow Him to the cross: to be alone with God, alone before God.

An anniversary of “Who am I?”

I wasn’t going to share this but today (19 years ago) I was ordinated to the Anglican priesthood.

I have not functioned as a priest in a long time (since 2007) and since returning to Anglicanism I have no desire to function as one. I miss preaching but I really see myself as a layperson with a past.

I had all these dreams and ideas about what life would be like at my ordination. An “Anglican Catholic” paradise coming with “valid orders”. Parish life would be all daily Mass and rosaries with people joining by the hundreds. Beautiful liturgy would bring the people in the door and they would stay. All to boast my ego as an another great “Anglo-Catholic priest”. But … none worked out as I thought. While I think the priesthood was (is?) a true vocation for me, I now see that it was another way of escaping “me”. The anxiety over my own identity could be replaced by simply adopting a position within the community and expecting people to recognise it. It was their divine duty to listen to me as their priest sent from God. But apart from right liturgy – how to hold my hands during the Eucharistic prayer – I had little insight into parish life. I doubt I connected with any person while I was a parish priest.

Time showed that I have no organisational and very little inter-personal skills. Since then I have become increasingly uncomfortable with some of the ideas I held about God (especially my relationship with Jesus), the Church (as an earthly institution), and especially the priesthood (the purpose of it and the place within the Church). Religion is not magic – my relationship with Jesus is personal and real. I have since met real Anglican priests (and a real deacon) and I know that I am nothing like them – the way they authentically connect with people and reflect Jesus.

So the problem of identity is still with me. Who am I? Yes, I am one loved by Jesus. But apart from that I can honestly say I have little idea. I am not a role assigned to me by the crowd – a persona into which I can escape. To be honest I have gifts that often make me feel ashamed – I see myself as opinionated and arrogant. Sometimes I think I am just a loudmouth with a smile.

I am extremely thankful that the priesthood introduced me to the Anglican tradition of daily prayer. The Office (once I gave up being the judge) has been a great comfort. SO with all of that here is a verse from today’s Morning Prayer reading:

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested”

(Hebrews 2:18)

In the end my priesthood (what a horrible term!) was never about Jesus. I saw the signs, and I proclaimed the signs, but I never saw where they were pointing. I argued about Jesus’ presence on the altar, discussed proper reverence and (much to my shame now) modesty for women in church. But I never heard him say to me “for you”. I had reached the position from which I could tell others what to do without every having to look at myself. I escaped “me” for a role and the question that I simply cannot answer.

Today is the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I am not sure if I should celebrate or lament.

BTW: I reflected on my priesthood this time last year. So much has changed – lots very painful. I wrote about an “inner priesthood” – I suspect that idea has little meaning for me now.

Sisyphus

This morning I was thinking that living with depression is like Sisyphus. I have no idea how he felt walking down the hill, returning to the boulder that nearly made it to the top. I know what depression feels like for me: everyday life is a struggle to get to some balance only for the boulder to slip and end up at the bottom again.

I now see the signs in my own life. I do things to try to balance my thinking. But I know what is coming. The “up” is great – creative, involved, interested. Then comes the realisation that the boulder is about to roll back down. And the cycle starts again.

I do not know if I should be “happy” that I now see it. I feel that through the counseling I can step outside myself and recognise the emotions. I know that I am not the emotions and I am not my story. I am “me”. And this “me” needs to live with Jesus Now!

I am struck by how the Psalmist really speaks to my depression. The Psalms describe the physical as well as the emotional side. And they become my prayer when I cannot pray. My context gives meaning to the words.

Living with depression

A week ago I came to the realization that I will be open about what it means to live with depression. And, for me, with extreme anxiety. I am on medication for both but that only levels me out – it is not a cure. I have tried for years to hide it – to put on the happy face and, unfortunately, let the people whom I am closed to suffer from my hiding. I have treated the people I love worst of all because I was completely me – a horrible person out of control. No intent but I naively thought that I could be me with these people.

So … depression hurts. Life is dark, painful, lonely (not in the sense of being physically alone but being misunderstood). I rarely have any idea what I am feeling and often have completely opposite feelings at the same time. My mind is full of ideas and feelings that battle inside my head. It is a little like someone yelling at you in your head while outside you are smiling. Everyday things are a battle – getting up, eating, taking care of myself. And, unfortunately, those closest to me have taken the worst of it. It has taken time and space for me to see that and to be fully, truly, sorry for my behavior. And that makes me cry!

I have no excuse! I have no reason for my behavior. And I will be honest that often there seems only one way out. (I have a very understanding counsellor and some incredible friends whom I have made a deal with to not hurt myself without speaking to them.) I do not want to die (death is very final) but I want the pain to stop. I do not want attention or sympathy but I want to be open about every aspect. And when I was open about it (to my doctor and to my counsellor) life changed.

There are other aspects that I will write about some other time. Except to say that in the midst of it all there is always people who encourage me and take care of me (spiritually and physically). Random people who encourage, people who smile.

So I am going to keep writing about it.

God’s mercy

The thief on the cross certainly did not receive
the Kingdom of Heaven as a reward for his virtues
but as a grace and a mercy from God.
He can serve as an authentic witness
that our salvation is given to us
only by God’s mercy and grace.

John Cassian

Yesterday’s word was “love” for me, today it is “mercy”. God’s mercy towards me and also my mercy towards me. I like the Cassian quote. God gives Himself in His mercy – the thing I cannot do, He does completely. There is lots bouncing around my head but I want to come back to God’s mercy.

The Chosen

So I am a little late but I just finished watching the first season of The Chosen. And while I am not normally a fan of religious movies and TV – I often find them overly pious and idealised – I loved the humanness of The Chosen.

The disciples are real – real problems, real relationships, real concerns. Jesus is very human – dancing, eating, cooking, walking. I think the strength of the series is the way it shows real people struggling with their faith in real contexts. These are not white-washed saints without spot. Simon’s sin are opening and his struggle is real. And it shows confusion and questions. For me it shows a person-to-person relationship with Jesus as the center of a life of faith. The disciples are human when they and Jesus travel together – “Follow me”. I identified with Matthew’s confusion and “weirdness”. Faith does not take you outside of life but allows you to enter into it fully.

So I am looking forward to more. And I might watch it again!

Solitude – hidden in Jesus

Life has drastically changed for me in the last month. I find myself alone a lot of the time. I am not saying that is negative – I am alone but rare lonely. I have come to embrace this solitude as a way of life. I enjoy when I am with people – I like being of service to other people, especially in their walk with Jesus. Yet these times drain me. And I return to the hiddenness to recharge with Jesus. I enjoy people but I also needs the moments of solitude and silence.

There is something about solitude and silence that means I am hidden in Jesus – not visible to the world, not engaged in the world’s desires and passions. I have my own passion – faith. I have my own time – prayer. I am flexible in how my day moves but it always has the same elements – prayer, meditation, reading, physical needs.

I have stopped listening to music as much. I eat alone – sometimes listening to an audiobook, sometimes simply listening to the birds and the trees. I take a walk alone. Is it a vocation? I do not know.

Prayer and Solitude

I have had a lot of time by myself. Sometimes I read, sometimes I listen to Thomas Merton’s talks to the novices, and sometimes I just sit and pray. I have enjoyed the simplicity of life. I have been trying to use APBA for Morning and Evening Prayer, and also Compline. I like the simplicity of it. No long readings and complicated prayers, with page turning and confusion. Simplicity and now-presence.

Tonight we start our online Lenten Study. It is a journey through the First Epistle of John. I know God has called me in a special way to witness to Him – not so much “teach” but to share with others insights on the spiritual life – to share the simplicity of Jesus. I like getting along-side people and journey with them. Yes, my anxiety and depression make it an overwhelming experience but God has placed people in my life to help and encourage. And, together with other people, always to journey to Jesus!

I have been reading some articles on Kierkegaard and imitation and contemporarility. Again presence of Jesus – “Given for you”. A relationship of person to Person. A relationship in the “now”.

So I am using the gift God has given me – solitude – to love. And to simply rest in Jesus.

Welcome back?

I have not written in quite some time. Life moves pretty quickly sometimes and it gives little room for reflection. So I am hoping to use this a little to reflect on life. And to reflect on what I am reading. I know Kierkegaard would hate my use of “reflect”! What I mean is to subjectively explore what the meaning for me is of what I read. The force is for me and for me alone.

So here is a quote from SK I read in a book on Carthusians at Parkminster:

“Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestantism in general may need the monastery again, or wish it were there.  The “monastery” is an essential dialectical element in Christianity.  We therefore need it out there like a navigation buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it.  But if there really is true Christianity in every generation, there must also be individuals who have this need…”

Christianity needs individuals who stand against the crowd. And if this standing against the crowd involves some form of monasticism – some form of separateness for Jesus – than Christianity has need for this. I want to think about that more!