“Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.” Andrew Greeley
It was a quiet celebration of Eucharist with Judy this afternoon at my dinner table. I was wearing a stole that Judy made which has been with me around the world and which I wore throughout my time in Iraq. The chalice was a very simple one that I got in Germany when I was stationed there in 1996-1997. The other elements that I used, the paten and crucifix were those that I used in Iraq, as was the lectionary that the readings came from, which has a cover that Judy made for my travels.
Our dog Molly was at my feet and our Papillon puppy Minnie decided that she needed to stay in Judy’s arms for the duration of the liturgy. This is nothing new, our dogs have pretty much been there any time that we have had a home Eucharist. Frieda, our Wire Hair Dachshund I’m sure was a lapsed Bavarian Catholic who if she attended was passed out. Greta our red smooth hair Dachshund would always be with us, but usually would be asleep next to Judy. Molly just likes to be with daddy and this was Minnie’s first Mass. Minnie made us laugh when she tried to get into the chalice as I gave it to Judy, but thankfully she did not succeed.
My service as a priest has been exclusively as a military Chaplain, first in the Army and since 1999 in the Navy. I have not yet had to opportunity to serve in a civilian parish though I have on occasion assisted fellow priests at their parishes. My current assignment is a hospital and most of my duties are related to patient care or staff support. Thus when I am home in Virginia I attend St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth where I first started attending while serving at the Naval Medical Center in the midst of my crisis of faith. I love that little parish which has its roots in the former slaves and freedmen of the city. Down here at the Island Hermitage I have not found that place where I feel at home so on weekends that I am here I typically will do the daily office and Eucharist at home.
So my parish is wherever I serve as a chaplain but in a sense my readers are an extended part of my parish. Father Andrew Greeley wrote:
“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”
I get notes from people on this site quite often who have experienced the pain of spiritual abuse, trauma from various sources and who have experienced a crisis in faith or lost their faith. I hear from others that have been ostracized by their churches for various reasons. They write in response to articles that I have written about my own crisis of faith following my time in Iraq and struggle with the demons of PTSD. It was a time where I felt abandoned by God and the church. I found that churches can be painful places as often as they become places of healing. Having been asked to leave the denomination that ordained me in September 2010 as I began to recover faith after spending nearly two years struggling I understand that pain. But I agree with Jurgen Moltmann who said of his experiences in World War II and its aftermath “Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”
Today was nice. We spent time together and after the scripture readings and before the Eucharist we simply talked about the journey and how different things are now than when I was ordained. The world has changed and so have we. War does that.
I have been thinking a lot this week about this and how blessed I am to be a priest and chaplain. I am blessed by people who taught me, mentored me and cared for me throughout my journey. I am blessed to still be able to serve God’s people and my church even as I serve those that serve this country in the military. I try to remember as Andrew Greeley wrote in one of his Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that:
“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.” (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)
This week I was humbled when one of my old shipmates from my time on the USS Hue City posted a comment on my Facebook page about the impact that I had made in his life about 10 years ago. The week was supposed to be a bit relaxing but I spent a good amount of it dealing with the tragic suicide of one of our Corpsmen who worked at one of our hospital clinics. I will continue to be working with that situation this week and would appreciate your prayers.
We also had our tankless water heating system go out and have been shuttling in to the base to take showers at the hospital locker room. Hopefully the maintenance man has the new component tomorrow. As it is I will be going in to work very early to PT and shower before my first meeting and what promises to be a very busy day as we prepare a memorial service and care for our shipmates.
Judy came to North Carolina this week and leaves tomorrow. Molly as usual will remain with me and Minnie after a wonderful week of growing up is going back to Virginia with Judy. It has been, excepting the oppressive heat, humidity and lack of hot water for showers been an enjoyable time together. We were able to have dinner last night with our friends from Kinston, Jerry, Toni and Cara in New Bern.
Since tomorrow will be a very early start I will close.
Anyway, grace and peace,