Last week I went to see a duo of short plays written by graduate and undergraduate students at the university where I work. The first play, a one-woman show written and performed by a friend, was enjoyable: by turns funny, sobering, and zany. It was also unguardedly honest, even amid its artfulness — I’d expect no less from Sam, a writer of creative nonfiction, but this is worth noting, if only for the way it primed me for the second act. During the intermission, the writer-performers of the second play asked the audience to come forward and write, each on our own brightly-colored construction paper star, something we’d like to try. I wrote “being a priest.”
That wasn’t, of course, the intended sort of thing. As I taped my star to the black-papered bulletin board, I saw others’ contributions: “skydiving”; “baking a cake”; “ballroom dancing.” And I knew even as I was writing on my star that I was out of sync with the request. All the others were, appropriately, things that you can ‘try’ (even if some require more preparation than others), whereas my contribution was more a question of lifestyle or vocation. But something about Sam’s play, lifting out slices of her psyche and presenting them on the empty space of the stage, cracked me open and made me pluck out a jewel I’ve been carrying.
Because this is not a new thing. Growing up Catholic, we heard a lot about vocations and callings, about the ways girls and boys may feel a call in their soul urging them to devote themselves as nuns and monks, as priests. I heard occasional messages from our bishop lamenting the shortage of priests. I listened to our parish priest talk to us in homilies about his wondrous experiences seeing, in the eye of his soul, the Holy Spirit descend on the chalice and host, transubstantiating them into the true body and blood of Christ. I also observed him caring for his congregation, dispensing pastoral advice and penance with gentleness and compassion. I knew that I wanted to do what he did, to stand with one face turned to God and another turned to the people. But I also worried that this wasn’t a call, that I should hear something more solid and ‘real’ than a feeling.
And then the Church and I grew apart and I couldn’t be Catholic anymore. But I still thought on the matter as I explored other, more liberal churches. Every time I dipped my toe into a new pool, there was a background motif to my thoughts, an interest in where and how its ministers went through seminary. When I finally heeded the other call I hadn’t been listening to, however — the call to the Old Gods — the urge to ordination waned: I was at sea, trying to find my way through the incredibly complex world of paganism, and all I could focus on was figuring out where I could touch bottom.
But I did eventually touch bottom. I learned to navigate at least the broad currents of the pagan sea and — to extend the metaphor — I found the particular inlet where I’ve dragged my little boat ashore with Ár nDraíocht Féin and Three Cranes Grove. And as I’ve put down roots along this inlet, deepening my relationships with the gods and their worshippers alike, I find the old pull coming back. Because here, too, are priests. And unlike in the religion of my childhood, where I felt pushed out by my homosexuality and my feminism, in ADF our priests may have any sexuality, any gender: the idea of the priesthood doesn’t have to intertwine with the idea of complicity in exclusion.
I am very, very far from the priesthood. I haven’t even truly begun the Dedicant Path, ADF’s first cycle of learning and training. But it’s important, to me, to express my desire and my intent. I am an incorrigible procrastinator, and I need all the pushes that I can manufacture for myself to fulfill even goals I deeply want. So I’m putting it out there, with one face toward the gods and the other toward the folk: it won’t be tomorrow, in fact it will take years, but I’d like to try “being a priest.”
Header image: Flickr/jason jenkins: “Don Pedro Sunrise.” CC BY-SA