Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

I know there will be plenty of pious/devotional/reflective entries on today being Ash Wednesday, and I've done any number of them myself, so I'll skip that. Instead, I'd like to address a few words to G-d:

Dear G-d,
Hope you got the letter and I pray you can make it...sorry, joke. (10 pts to those who get the reference) No, seriously, just a few things.

1. I know it's a day of fasting/abstinence - I'm cool with that, but I will still be having my full Wednesday intake of caffeine. We all have to draw our line in the sand somewhere.

2. I'm NOT giving up shamelessly indulgent hugs and hellos from folks like John Leather. THAT just made my day - and all we need is love, right? And this whole season is about learning to love more. We talk about giving things up, but this month is really about stripping back to learn to love people more, right?

3. St Paul as the first reading. SERIOUSLY? Doesn't he get enough attention the rest of the year? I'm sorry, but every year has to be Joel, ALL THE WAY. Much better call to repentance. Srsly. The Old Testament every time.

4. Speaking of St Paul, he's a bit of a whingey martyr. "Oh, I've done this ALL FOR YOU, no matter how much I'VE SUFFERED." Yo, St. Paul - it's the world's smallest violin. Surely You didn't mean for him to have the lion's share of the NT?

5. Pious people. WTF? No, really. I'm not talking about the devout, like John and Mary L.; Nahed; Terry; Asta; Maggie; any of those I know and those I don't who walk their spiritual/religious talk, showing me up for the complete hypocritical twat I really am. No, I'm talking about those who make a show of virtue: posing with claret whilst being overheard having a 'how much I know about theology' pissing contest; peddling sensationalist stories about the 'secular world' and denouncing 'secular values' whilst being utterly enslaved to them ; overly awed by status; obsessed by rules, rubrics and lace and form; those who kowtow to those with religious status whilst casting doubt on their reputation the moment their back is turned. Those who use their 'orthodoxy' as a way of being an emotional bully and clubbing people over the head with their beliefs, insisting they live by them. That lot. You know, the ones who do all that to avoid a real relationship with You.

Ok, I know they have issues and they need my compassion and understanding. But here's where I need Your help, Lord - I want to effing smash their faces into the nearest psychological mirror. That's right. I want to take Mr 'Aren't I so perfectly Catholic' and shove his face in the fact that not only is he an emotional bully, but also that he's really unhappy, though he'd claim otherwise. I want to take Miss 'Fake Piety' and expose her as the scheming bitch she is. I want show so many of them just how shallow, spiteful and narrow-minded they are. I know, I know. Jesus died for them too.

But this is what makes it horrible - I want to take the gift of psychological insight You gave me and use it to take them apart and hurt them as much as I've seen them hurt others - their spouses, their children, those around them. And that, to me, would be the ultimate sin.

Help me, Lord. Help me find compassion for them this Lent. Help me let this go, because I can't do it.

Please. Help me to heal, not destroy.

6. What were You thinking when you made platypuses? Did you just look away for a minute and did Gabriel play a practical joke?

7. I know I'm feeling really stuck right now - but thank You. Thank you for where I am right now, and for all that I have that I forget about, and what being here brings me. Thank you for the challenges, for those who knock my corners off, for everything I learn from. Help me have faith in Your plan and kick me in the ass to act when appropriate.

8. This had to be separate. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU FOR MY FRIENDS. OH, GOD, THANK YOU. There just aren't words for the amazing people in my life. Help me be what You need me to be in their lives, and in the lives of everyone I touch - whether it's just a brush past or a lifetime commitment. (No straitjackets, though, please!)

9. Stay with me? Or rather, take down the barriers that make me forget You're always there. You know that unloved thing I blogged about? I feel it with You too - I mean, I know I love you as well as I can, but I don't often feel it coming back from You. I know I don't have to apologise for it, but...I feel like I should, you know. I know You're there, but a lot of the time, it's hard to feel and trust. Help me with that? Help me just BE with you?

So, basically, can we just work on us this Lent?

10. Small, yappy dogs. SO WRONG. Were You on...never mind. Better not ask that one.

Gah, Ash Wednesday is almost over - better post. More anon, Lord - thanks for listening.

Who loves ya, baby? That would be me.

Irim xxxxxxxxxxx

PS - Promise not to kill any pious people during Lent. Hope that works for You. Mwah.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Spiritual growth: response to a sermon

I'd nearly forgotten how rarely Fr Robert preaches anymore, until he did today. I realised that I was no longer accustomed to seeing him in the pulpit, as I had to repeat 'Forget he looks like Richard Nixon. Forget he looks like Richard Nixon...' several times early on.

My ears pricked as he quoted JH Newman: "Growth is the only evidence of life."

Good start, I thought.

And so it was as he mentioned physical, intellectual and emotional growth and came to spiritual growth. I settled in. Then he said the one thing that distracted me from the rest of his sermon (not a direct quote):

If we stop growing spiritually, it is due to laziness or lack of education.

I baulked, but I waited.


That was when I moved from listening fully to listening with one ear as I took that statement apart and thought about how I wanted to discuss or blog it. Why?

Because, Fr Robert, I'm going to have to disagree.

As mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, growth is the only evidence of life. That means that living things, left to their own devices, all other things being equal/provided (food, favourable soil, friendly habitat, water, etc.), will grow. It has no choice - it simply is. Thus, if something living - including a spiritual/emotional/intellectual life - stops growing, it isn't out of lack of aegis (laziness, and I'll mention that having a deeper cause) or lack of academic information. It is out of profound injury or lack of nurture.

It IS true that people can be lazy, but garden variety laziness - e.g., I can't be bothered to do the dishes right now - which is usually overcome naturally, because it is part of a natural cycle - does not prevent growth. It may even be part of the need to rest. Persistent laziness, like its shadow, persistent busyness, is often rooted in a sense of fear, avoidance and overwhelm. For example, when I'd fallen behind on turning in my supervision forms at the place where I volunteer, 'laziness' took over because I WAS so far behind, it seemed impossible to catch up: it was a combination of all 3. In more serious cases, it is often indicative of depression.

Laziness isn't the underlying sin we take it to be - and often what looks like laziness is the gathering of resources before right action. We live in a world that believes in do, do, do and sees not acting as laziness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So what does prevent growth? Emotional and spiritual injury through abuse, neglect, bullying, emotional disconnection, having to live in an environment where one has to hide in any variety of ways - so many things that create 'black holes' within us - those places so desperate for love (we often mistake approval for this), security and the nurture that we didn't receive as a child that they can never be filled. They turn us into 'hungry ghosts', defined in Wikipedia as beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way.

These holes bind us to them, they paralyse us. They prevent us from doing anything but frantically trying to fill them and stop the pain and emptiness they generate: we chase what we perceive to be love - especially those who cannot offer it, or those who abuse us as we were abused growing up; we chase approval through worldly success; we chase inanimate objects such as money, thinking that they will never betray us, and if we get enough they will fill that hole and it will be over.

But the thing about hungry ghosts is this: whilst they have wide open mouths and bellies bloated from malnutrition, they have very thin necks. Whatever goes into the mouth can never make it past the impossibly thin neck, so it can never nourish.

If it is bad for us, it cannot be expelled. If it is genuine love, genuine nurturing, genuine care, we cannot take it in. I recently had this exchange with a friend that demonstrates that:

P: You know you're very much loved by a good number of people, don't you?

Me: I grew up feeling unloved; much as I love my friends, and I feel THAT keenly, I very rarely feel love coming back at me. I sense need easily, but unconditional love not so much. It's lovely to know that I'm loved, even if I have a hard time feeling it. Thank you.

That is MY hungry ghost: I rarely feel loved, held. So I chase it - but I can't take too much of it (thin neck), so I chase it in those who can't love me profligately, passionately, fully. I take the little I'm given because it is what I can bear.

That's changing, the neck is widening, but it takes time and is still hard.

As Fr Robert said, the cause of the spiritual life's failure to thrive is sin - emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, anything that makes someone less a person. We're all guilty of some shade of that.

But I would take issue with his statement that sin is at the root of the lack of growth. If one just pulls up sin, it's like pulling up what you can see of a weed - it might be gone for a while, but another will soon grow in its place. You need to pull sin up by the root.

And that root is fear.

Fear is what drives people to sin:

Avarice: I'm afraid I'll never have enough/there's not enough to go round.
Envy: I'm afraid that what I have/who I am isn't good enough, but if I have that, maybe I will be.
Gluttony: I'm afraid there won't be enough, I have to have as much as possible now.
Lust: "I'm afraid I won't be loved."
Pride: "I'm afraid I'm not enough, so I have to tell people that I'm more. I can't ask for help/admit I can't do it/don't know."
Sloth: Cf. above "I'm afraid it's too much/I'll fail."
Wrath: "I'm afraid of being hurt/the pain underneath this/the pain that might come, it's easier to be angry than face that." "I'm afraid I won't get justice, so I must get it myself."

Those are by no means exhaustive - it is, of course, more complex than that, but I hope the point is clear. In discussing a real-life example earlier with a Saffa friend, he made the point that the great sin of apartheid came about because 'SA whites were very, very afraid.' That is brought home by one of the best songs ever written:

I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns to keep it tame
Then standing back he made it plain
that the nightmare would never ever rise again
But the fear the fire and the guns remained

Perhaps personalizing it by generating our own 'I'm afraid that...' will help us move forward - and grow.

But how? So we know we're afraid and what we're afraid of? How does it help us grow? Self-awareness is the first step to emotional and spiritual growth - and to collapsing that black hole. Knowing what is true is the first step to everything.

The next step is to love it: and if it is too hard to love a black hole, let us use Donald Kalsched's imagery and love the child left behind, the child frozen in the trauma that tries to draw us back to it, tries to protect us from it again, but can only do so as the 3,5, 6 year old he/she is. That little one has done far too much for far too long, more than any child should have to do (as we probably did in real life). The time has come for us to hold it, to love it through its tantrums, its tears, its rage at us for abandoning it.

Once we can begin to love ourselves, it's time to move outwards and do so in relationship: first, in trusting God, next in loving others the way we are beginning to truly love ourselves: unconditionally. How do we do that? We hold them - figuratively and sometimes, literally. I have many friends with black holes because I have such black holes. And I have learned to hold them, sometimes imagining my arms around a younger them as they huddle silently and miserably against me or even as they flail and lash out against me. I will be there, lovingly, firmly (if necessary) and holding the space so they can find their truth, because that is what love is - so beautifully summed up in these words of Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time when she is desperate to save her brother:

I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.

And sometimes, that is what is most needed as they rage, weep, hide. I love you. I love you. I love you. And because of that, you are the treasure of my heart. You may know it, but one day, if you hear it enough, you'll feel it - even if it's just a little.

In addition to the nourishment that love provides, as we love others, we provide a safe, nurturing environment to grow spiritually: we need to be able to share our fears, our doubts, our thoughts with others who will listen, accept and respond lovingly, even as they disagree. Once we can provide that for ourselves, we can begin to provide it for others - and God can begin to use us to be His healing hands on Earth.

After all: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.

Love has no torment. That does not mean we are free from suffering, for loss will come, pain will come, difficulty will come. But that is not torment, which takes these things and twists them - and us - out of all recognition. Torment belongs to fear.

Here is the beginning of the end of sin, the Holy Spirit melting the frozen, and the return to spiritual growth - because where we are spiritually can now interact with love, community and experience, allowing it to meet new challenges to deepen and mature. After all, growth needs resistance.

And for most of us, some of those challenges are found in risk, in being vulnerable - for me, not saying to P, 'I'm ok,' but opening up to tell him what was really going on for me, was a huge risk, which one can see from the brief snippet I posted above.

It garnered the following response, in part:

P: Thanks so much for letting me in, for talking. You *are* loved - by me, and by many others...I'm your friend. What am I going to do? I'll always be here when you need me.

Exactly. What am I going to do? I'll always be here when you need me. For those of you who really need that but can't reach for it right now, hear it one more time and know it for the simple truth. When you can reach out, I'll come to meet you. That's a promise.

In that moment, I felt very loved indeed. And I could have sworn I felt my emotional and spiritual lives poke their heads out of love's rich soil.

Friday, 10 February 2012


Right now, I'm triggered, so I'm going to see if blogging about it will shift it at all.

As everyone here knows, I was sexually abused when I was younger. The effects manifest in ways obvious and subtle - I hide behind big, casual clothes; I need to be under a blanket, but can't bear the weight of it on my neck, because it feels like I'm suffocating; I can react remarkably calmly to the worst news, because I'm just not there; I'm hypervigilant and extremely aware of character. For years, I thought I was overreacting when I'd be uncomfortable with certain adults when they were interacting with children - actually, I'm spot on. Conversely, if I absolutely trust someone with a child, that's absolutely spot on too.

I don't trigger often anymore, though I know some friends would argue that I'm probably constantly slightly triggered - a bit like always having a low grade fever. I consider it a baseline. I know I'm triggered when close male friends touching me makes me tense up when they approach, when I will normally totally relax into it. Or if I get far angrier with South Asian males than is warranted, that kind of thing.

You'd think that after years, I'd be used to it; I'd know when it was coming - especially now that I'm a therapist. Sometimes, I can. Often, I'll be completely blindsided, though in retrospect, I should have expected it.

Part of the problem is that I can watch shows like 'CSI' and 'Criminal Minds' back-to-back and not have a problem, even if they're about rape. Ditto 'Law and Order: SVU', though if I'm completely honest, I usually have to watch something like 'Bridezillas' to wind down from that. But it's fine. What I tend to forget is that a lot of it coming at me from various sources, especially if a couple of those things are a bit close - a friend's pain, disclosure, it happening near me - create a cumulative effect that means that anything can push me into being fine one minute, triggered the next. It's even faster if I have to hold the space for someone (or several someones) else's feelings about the topic, and to do so, I need to absolutely clamp down on my feelings.

Not a problem if I allow myself to decompress and process later. Unfortunately, I'm more than a bit of a lazy idiot about that.

This week, I should have seen it coming. I could feel myself vacillating between dissociated and irrationally annoyed by small things, especially towards the end of the week. I tensed up any time anyone came up to my desk at work, even though I can see them in my screen, my headphones were on almost all the time. This evening, during a long text exchange about the topic, I could feel myself pulling in and away. In a friend, I'd have seen it coming a mile away and called them on it - therapist, analyse thyself.

Suddenly, I hit 11pm, post NCIS and 'Criminal Minds' (and if I'd been self-aware, I'd have AVOIDED THIS 'CRIMINAL MINDS' LIKE THE PLAGUE TILL ITS REPEAT) and my normal state made a cool whooshing sound as it went by.

(Oh Lord. I'd thought back to my uncle several times this week. Only for seconds at a time - but still flashbacks. And I STILL MISSED IT.)

What does it feel like for me? I don't cry, shake or go through flashbacks for days. I just...leave. Like I used to when...well, that. I'm just dissociated, out of body - sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. Nothing can touch me - I will see things that usually move me to tears, or make me laugh till I cry, or move me to advocacy - and I just don't care. I can see people I absolutely adore and feel nothing, though I know I love them to bits. When I was younger, it manifested as losing myself in series: the Oz books, Nancy Drew, Madeleine L'Engle. I loved to read, loved new worlds, but they served a dual purpose: if I was there, no one could touch me and it was easier.

Right now, it feels like I'm writing this from realities away. I'm here, composing, reading, but not feeling it, and I suspect it's showing up in my writing, though I can't judge that now. I know it'll show up when I flinch when someone sits too close to me in the pew (right now about two people away from me) or just a lack of real response to a friend. Fortunately, tomorrow is now clear and unlike the last two Saturdays, I don't have to read at the 18.30 mass, and I can just batten down the hatches for a day, which will hopefully clear it.

What do I need to do? Listen to it. Let it be what it is, rather than fight it. See what it has to tell me. If I need to, lean. And above all, get back into my body. Let my guy friends hug me - feel the resistance, but let the touch be. Progressive muscle relaxing exercises; my new 'feel your heartbeat' exercise from Martha Beck, which is brilliant. Breathe. Go wordless (MB again), at least for a while. SLEEP. Feel that my back is really bothering me, that my right ankle is stiff. That I'm tired, even if I feel I have no right to be.

And just let tomorrow be what it needs to be and bring what it needs to bring.

I may be triggered. But that doesn't mean I have to fire.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A reflection on clerical crushes and expectations

On Tuesday, 24 January, as I was waiting for Ari to show up online, I idly flicked through Sky channels to see if there was anything worth watching, and stumbled onto The world against apartheid. Now, anyone who has known me for oh, any length of time, knows that all things South African trip over me. Seriously. I went to Orkney and the first sign I saw was in the travel agent's window: 'Fly to South Africa'. And that's just one of at least a thousand examples. I've been fascinated by South Africa since I first saw the song We are marching to Pretoria in my elementary school music book - they've had a while to accumulate.

So tripping over this excellent programme was about as much surprise as the pope being Catholic. I've been sucked into the first two parts, drinking in the oral and social history that I'd never had a chance to dive into before. After seeing Desmond Tutu appear at the end of the first part, I looked forward to the appearance of his colleague - my third clerical crush after JPI and Oscar Romero: the late Archbishop Denis Hurley.

I'd heard of Tutu first - of course, since he became a Nobel Laureate - and absolutely adored him, but somehow, it was Hurley who caught my imagination. It may have been tied to my early draw to the Catholic Church, or something pulled in I sensed in him that I didn't sense in the exuberant Tutu: a shyness, a reserve, a weight on his shoulders - something I wanted to draw out, to help carry, to support. (Yes, that tendency of mine began very young indeed.)

I was SQUEEing about the show and Archbishop Hurley to Ari - who, like the true friend she is, sent me a copy of Guardian of the Light by Paddy Kearney, which I've started reading. Of course, being one who reads character from photographs, I went straight to the 2 sets of photos in the book, and found myself completely arrested by this one:

Seriously hot is not the way one should describe a bishop in full vestments, so I shan't. (Yes, really.)

But look at that face. Look at the character. He was 31. 31, people. Today, most males in our society are still boys playing men at 31, desperate to be the eternal Peter Pan. Here, we see the face of a man - a young man with much destiny in front of him, but a man nonetheless. The character is there already: strong, firm, determined, not easily swayed - balanced with thoughtfulness, strong principle and the ability to listen. And he is aware: so aware of what has been placed on his shoulders, and in that face, one can also see the 'I'm not ready. Oh God.' But he will say 'yes', because 'yes' is what is needed. There is great power in this 31 year old - true power, not what often masquerades as power. It is this character, this true power, that makes him the two words that I said I wouldn't use about a bishop in full vestments.

The photo makes me want to weep, even as it fills me with hope - for one can sense the terrible aloneness. I find myself torn between inclining my head to acknowledge the true power present and the urge to throw my arms around his shoulders and tell him all will be well.

He, like JPI and Oscar Romero, holds such power and is so deeply human. The two are not unconnected: one can only hold true power if one is truly and fully human.

As I read, I am startled to discover that he had not always been so passionate about the equality between the races: he was once startled to see a white woman and an Indian woman speaking animatedly on the bus, not having realised that non-whites had the same needs/wants as whites. It wasn't till he came to Rome as a seminarian and counted two Sri Lankans amongst his closest friends that his views truly began to change. This surprises me (though it shouldn't, he would have been a product of his time) and I put down the book to think about how it makes me feel - on its own then, more specifically, about him.

I find, to my surprise, that I am absolutely fine with it. More than absolutely fine. Why? Because it means he was open to change. That he could be open to experience, think it through, and come to a fair conclusion. I don't need him to have been perfect: I need him to have been real; to be able to listen and care; to stand up for what he felt was right, whatever the risk to himself. What I would have found unconscionable was a resistance to growth; a need to believe he was always right, even in the face of evidence; a need for approval that meant that he said 'yes' to those above him no matter what.

What Denis Hurley did was grow up, to develop, to begin to unfold into who he really was. And that is as it should be.

These musings lead me to understand how my conversion to Catholicism was, in large part, due to these men: men of truth; men passionate about the same things I was; men who wielded the power of the organisation behind them to try to overcome corruption, oppression, injustice, no matter what it cost them. Because shepherding God's people was their vocation.

When I joined the Catholic Church, these were the men I thought were going to lead me, the men I thought I was going to be working alongside to make the whole world a better place, to serve all people, no matter what religion they identified with.

I soon learned just how special my trinity of clerical crushes were.

Thus began my inner - and outer - struggle with the Catholic clergy. On the one hand, I was drawn to many of them. On the other, I found myself wanting to slam so many clerical heads into the nearest concrete wall as I told them exactly what I thought of them. What was going on?

In part, I figured, I was playing out my relationship with my father in a place that was slightly more sane. That makes a lot of sense, and is certainly part of the truth. But it was Ari who really began to crack it a few months ago, as I vented my rage at a cleric who I felt had failed abysmally in his duty to offer some help I had asked for. It was an unexpected failure, and therefore, felt like a betrayal, though I'd given him no sign how I really felt.

Then, she said it:

You are constantly asking them [the clergy] for things you know they can't give you. You can't seriously be surprised when they fail you.

Me: I set men up to fail all the damn time, don't I?
Ari: Yes.
Me: and especially men in authority
Ari: Yes.
Me: Some part of me takes immense pleasure in that
Ari: Sometimes it's justified: you're the child with the naked emperor. But yes, a lot of it is unnecessary.

I knew, at the deepest level, that she - that WE -were absolutely right. As we unravelled it further, what became clear was that there were certain areas in which I expected perfection from Catholic priests. Or if not perfection, certainly an absolute commitment to developing the following to the best of their ability:

1. Living a life of integrity. For me, this is the biggie, because everything else flows from this. Be aware of your issues and work on sorting out your shit, rather than running to the priesthood to try to hide from your shit. Because let me tell you, a collar that gets you some kind of station, pretty vestments, obsessing about liturgy, thinking, 'Hey, I can turn wafer and wine into body and blood, I am so much better than non-clerics' and being able to promulgate your point of view to a captive audience every week may taste like ice cream - but if you're not working through your stuff and moving towards personal holiness, it's ice cream on top of shit. No matter how much you shift the ice cream, the taste of shit will always come through. Work from the inside, instead of adjusting the externals, and everything else will follow.

And no, just saying office doesn't count as personal holiness. Prayer is much more and much deeper than that. "Your daily life is your temple and your religion," remember? So how you act matters. Take responsibility for your life. For your emotions. If you truly have a vocation to the priesthood, you have a vocation to shepherd God's people. God's people have a vocation to support you - this is symbiosis, not a one way street. But what God's people do NOT have a vocation to is to contain your unconscious stuff/emotion that spills out on them, nor do they have a vocation to be your co-dependent and prop up your dysfunction or your fragile ego. That's YOUR job to sort out - through self-awareness, with God, maybe with a therapist. By the way, the stuff you're doing you think is secret? It ain't, trust me. For example, if you've been sniping about me behind my back to other clerics or laity, I know about it. Everything leaks. So don't do anything that shouldn't.

2. Think for yourself. Seriously, one more 'The Church says...and so it's right' and some dog collar wearing male is going to get kneed in the balls. THINK, man. Is IT? One of the things I love about Denis Hurley is that he called Pope Paul VI on Humanae Vitae - robustly, via written correspondence. There was NEVER any question of his loyalty to the Church or God's people - dissent is part of growth and development. But Hurley thought, came to a conclusion and spoke his truth. He didn't let anyone do his thinking for him. God gave you a mind of your own. Use it. What does your experience tell you? Your compassion? Does it make you uneasy? Then FACE IT and follow it through. Know what you TRULY believe and take it to God. Lather, rinse, repeat. See #1.

3. Grow up - eternal Peter Pans have no place in the clergy. I've seen far too many boys, particularly neocons, claim a vocation because they can't or don't want to face the real world - essentially, they want to continue living their university days around people who agree with them or will hold them in such high regard that they never have to do any real work. They can join groups that do absolutely no pastoral work whatsoever, prance about in pretty costumes and vestments, hold high ritual, swan off to various parts of the world for the rest of their lives, all supported by the Catholic laity and held up as examples by the hierarchy as 'an increase in vocations'. Sorry, boys - I'm afraid that's not what Our Lord had in mind for you. I'll tell you what I do, though - a year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, ministering to the people. You have a vocation, right?

4. Pastoral care above all else. Seriously, anyone who can follow instruction can learn to the say the mass. Not that hard, I could do it within months of becoming Catholic. And frankly, the same goes for the other rituals. Anybody can learn to say them, it's just that the Church holds that because your hands were anointed with oil, like He-Man, you have the power.

But genuine pastoral care? That's something else altogether. That requires the ability to be in genuine relationship with someone else. Now, if you can't be in relationship with yourself and with God, you can't do this (again, see #1). You're a shepherd - THIS is your raison d'etre. Your real work, your real vocation, is to be with the people. To be there when they are dying; when those they love are dying. To comfort, to hold, to witness. To be tender, yet firm, in the confessional, when people are most vulnerable. To forever hold the sanctuary and the space - and to perform the sacraments from this space, letting God work through you. To die in the middle of mass because you have spoken out for your people. To be ready to go to prison for your people. To protect your people no matter what it costs you.

God may not be calling you to martyrdom, or to pay a great price. But if He is calling you to the vocation, He is calling you to be broken - at the very least in the way Mary Oliver speaks of:

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

That is your vocation - and not just yours, but everyone's. That is what this pilgrim church is about - witnessing to each other's lives and helping each other break wide open: to themselves, to God, and to the rest of the world. For if your heart isn't broken open, you cannot be what God means for you to be.

Do I have the right to expect this of my clerics? I firmly believe I do - and going back to the cleric I'd ranted about to Ari, even the initial response wasn't the problem - it became a problem when he showed no awareness around it. What I needed him to do was come back to me and say, 'Hey, look, I was in a bad place - let me try again.' That was all it would have taken. That is the mark of a man with true power - a Hurley, a Romero, a Mandela, a JPI. My genuine frustration and anger is with those who willfully use the clerical vocation, which I consider to be deeply holy, as a way to resist growth, to hide, to wield power so they can take out their conscious and unconscious pain on others. That, I have a right to be angry and speak up about.

What I DON'T have the right to expect is perfection, or even, as Ari pointed out to me, that priests be BETTER than me at all those things. I can insist that they be my equals, my partners on the journey to truth, awareness, authenticity and service - and we can help each other be that. I can call them on being false and hold up a mirror to them. But I cannot despise them for not being relentlessly good or for falling on their way. They too, are human.

After all, even Denis Hurley wasn't always the champion of equality he became.

Nor would I dream of denying them laughter and play along the way - even my clerical heroes took time out:

And look at that picture closely - who's in it? So often, much more is achieved through the intensity of playfulness than through the importance of being earnest.

A lesson my clerical friends and I could all come together to learn...

...Royal Oak, next week?