Last week I was fortunate enough to have one of those occasions where I got to appreciate my journey to date. The Episcopal Church is VERY fond of pulling out worship services for all sorts of occasions. We even have a whole companion to our prayer book, and that companion book is called The Book of Occasional Services. We are a liturgical people...and that often means receptions with food and wine. Amen!
Last week I was formally "installed" as the rector (senior clergy person) of St. Thomas. There's lots of words and prayers and chanting and Communion of course. It's a celebration of new ministry, but it gets shorthanded as "installation" which kind of makes me sound like an appliance...which in some ways is the work of a priest. We should be "plugged in" to our communities, function without needing much fussing over, perform our duties regularly, and be missed when we "go out" but also be quite replaceable.
As I was getting dressed for the installation service (and yes that means I bought a new jacket and new shoes..duh!) I was flooded with memories in one of those surreal "is this what it would be like to watch your life pass before you eyes" kinds of moments. I had used this really cute pin to hold back the lapel of my new jacket while it hung in the closet because I hate to iron and I think this jacket can't be ironed. (That's my story anyway) The pin I used is a sort of laminated Ritz cracker that has been dusted with sequins.
It was given to me by my beloved New Testament professor from my M. Div program in Austin. I think she gave it to me for my 40th birthday...a number of years ago. (What? I'm sure you are thinking this girl can't be 40! OK maybe you are not thinking that...but humor me)
As soon as I touched the pin to take it off the jacket I was immediately transported back to a time in the seminary chapel when this professor met with me and several of my female M.Div student friends. We gathered in a circle and practiced saying the liturgy. (We really do have to practice saying the liturgy even though we are "just" reading it out of the prayer book.) I remember crying almost uncontrollably, partly because I couldn't seem to get all the reading and the hand signals and the handling of the "stuff" coordinated....it really is kind of like learning to drive!
And I was crying because I thought, "really? I'm supposed to be a priest? Are you kidding?" This professor was, as always, kind and patient, attentive and loving...as she had been throughout my seminary career and as she continues to be. I made it through the rest of that "play church" time, composed myself, and heard her say, "you can do this."
As I touched that pin on my jacket I could hear her voice, and Iwas reminded too of a book we read in seminary called The Sacraments of Life by Leonardo Boff. It is an outstanding book that captures what anyone knows who has ever treasured some little cup or ornament that is on one level not very valuable but on another level is THE thing you would grab if your house was on fire. The ordinary things in our lives, a pin, a coffee mug, a box, can become Holy if we allow them to do so.
That little Ritz cracker pin reminds me of that dear professor, reminds me of my dear friends from seminary, reminds me of other professors and friends I've had over the years....all of whom shaped me. I'm so grateful to have had some moments in my life like graduations, a wedding (OK, two if you are counting), ordinations (two for sure), this installation, where I had the opportunity to pause and reflect on how I got to that particular moment.
I wish everyone had more moments like those! We should do more milestone marking in our culture. There's a lot to be said for occasions that cause us to stop and reflect and think, even for a moment, "wow...how did I get here? Who brought me to this time in my life?"
Even if some sort of celebration is not in your future, I hope that you are surrounded by completely "worthless" things that you can see and touch and remember people who have loved you. Things that you would grab in a fire. Things that are utterly sacramental, utterly tangible signs of God's endless grace.