Friday, January 26, 2007

The Voice...

Some time ago - in one of our first meetings - Fr. Mark gave me a book called, "The Voice". I wasn't new to my discernment journey, but I was struggling. What I was 'hearing' didn't always make sense to me. And when it did make sense, I didn't always like what I was hearing. (As I reflect on this now - I wonder if Fr. Mark made a gift of this book, or if I was supposed to return it....hrm....)

Anyway, the book has "lived" on my coffee table ever since - and occasionally I would pick it up to read it. But it has been several months now since I've looked at it. Today at lunch, I was in the living room, and I spotted it. I decided to give it a read.

In this book, about a cartoon lone fisherman on the ocean, the voice says, "Follow me." And, like I so often do - have done - probably will continue to do, the fisherman at first thinks he may be going nuts. I'm reminded of the old classic Bill Cosby sketch about Noah. Where the Lord says, "Noah" - in this deep, booming voice. And Noah says, in stereotypical Bill Cosby fashion, "Somebody talkin' to me?" He goes on about his merry way, until the voice comes again, "Noah!" Eventually, Noah says, "Will you STOP BOTHERING ME!!!"

You can listen to this sketch at YouTube if you've never heard it before...Just click below.

Back to the book, the fisherman eventually says, "Look here - I'm busy. Leave me alone." And, lo and behold, if his boat doesn't spring a leak!!! He patches it by sticking his toe in, goes about his business, the voice calls again, a bigger leak springs.

I don't want to tell the whole story - its a great book - with a great message.

But today, as I was reading it, I was really reflecting on this "springing a leak" thing. Here I was, walking along in life, doing fairly OK. Not perfectly happy with everything, but not perfectly unhappy either. And BAM! My boat springs a little leak.

I'd been hearing the Voice for most of my life - since I was a little boy really. But somehow, like the fisherman, I found ways to say, "Stop bothering me." When my boat began to spring a leak, I was really a little ticked off at God. (Just like this fisherman in the book.) I found a way to plug it - so I could "stay afloat" for a while. And before long, another, bigger leak, pops up.

Today, looking back, I'm reminded that, "all things work together for good". I'm reminded of God's amazing grace. Grace to have and use a Voice that we can hear. Grace to call. Grace to spring a leak in our boats so we start to pay attention. Grace to love us and call us forward into our lives - whether that be sitting at my desk eight months away from seminary, or you, sitting at your computer, with work, life, love, family, friends, whatever.

God didn't "bully" me into this stage in my journey. Neither am I running away from my leaky boat. At least, that's the way I see it today. I specifically wanted to take this "discernment" journey slowly, because I was worried I might be doing just that. But, today I realized... without the boat springing a leak, I might have never said anything to the Voice but, "Go away!"

Next time your boat springs a leak (next time MY boat springs a leak) - I so desperately want to try to remember that maybe God's just trying to get my attention. What a grace...

Monday, January 22, 2007

What's Next?

To be less than two weeks away from "GEE - the idea of heading off to seminary is BIG" - I know this will sound strange to some... but I'm finding myself asking, "Uh - OK. What's next?? Let's get on with it." What's odd is that I'm still apprehensive. But in that apprehension, I'm ready. Not in a "OK - hurry up - let's get it over with" way. Not like I am at the doctor's office when its time for a shot, in other words. But, more like, "OK - let's get going" - like a road trip to the other side of the planet, when you're excited about the trip, even if you're feeling a little apprehension at the length of the drive.

(Sometimes I wonder if my attempts at metaphor are counterproductive. *shrug* Oh well.)

This past weekend, I completed my first official "assignment" from the diocese since being accepted as a seminarian. I attended VIRTUS training. This is child sexual abuse awareness training that's offered to all those who work in and around the parishes of our Diocese. (It's a national program, really - that our Diocese uses as well.) It's a striking sign of the extent of the damage sexual abuse in the church has caused that this would be my first assignment. But for me, its also a positive sign of the steps the church is taking to heal that damage. Raising awareness of the issue, openly discussing how we can protect our children, and "raising the bar" in some areas to avoid where possible even the appearance of inappropriate situations - that's a step in the right direction.

My personal belief is that whatever we can do to protect children, restore confidence, and heal wounds is what the church truly owes those who've been harmed. Apologies and financial reparations are one thing. But wisdom teaches us that what we really owe those who've been harmed is an amend, a change, all the effort at our disposal to prevent the same thing happening again. And this is what the church owes itself, too.

Anyway...about 4 hours after that training was over, I began to ask, "OK - what's next?" I take this as a good sign. I'm ready. I don't have doubts today about what I'll be doing come August. Apprehension - yes. Some fear of the unknown - yes. Discomfort - uh, YES!! (Breaking out of the comfort zone is something that's never any fun.) But, I don't have any doubts. And, there's a big part of me that's ready to get on with it.

But - I need to take a step back and say, "Patience. Wait. Trust. Follow." My Way is always to grab the reins, and head after "it" (whatever it is) the way I think is best. God's Way is often to invite us to hand HIM the reins, and follow that lead. Practicing God's Way is sometimes difficult - and always different. But that's what I sense that I really need to do with this.

And so, for today, "What's Next" should probably be limited to:

* Continuing to Focus on my prayer life.
* Watching, Waiting, Listening.
* See #1 Above.

After all, this has got to be about my relationship with God above all else. Every step. Following His lead, His call. If it becomes only about what I want, the way I want to do it - well, then I've missed the mark. Gee - that's gonna' take a lot of practice. Yeah - that's REALLY "what's next" ... practicing the action of following.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Voice of Truth...

One of my favorite songs - I pray with this song, literally. The lyrics have spoken to me all along this journey, and in a new way now:

Oh what I would do to have
the kind of faith it takes
to step out of the boat and then
onto the crashing waves...
to step out of my comfort zone
into the realm of the unknown
where Jesus is...
and He's holding out his hand.

But the waves are calling out my name
and they laugh at me...
reminding me of all the times
I've tried before and failed.
The waves they keep on telling me
time and time again,
"Boy - you'll never win!
You'll never win!"

But the voice of Truth
tells me a different story!
The voice of Truth says
do not be afraid!
The voice of Truth says
this is for My glory!
Of all the voices calling out to me,
I will listen and believe
the voice of Truth.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't hear those waves. Taunting. Like the Phillistines taunting a tennager with a slingshot. (The second verse of the song uses that image.) And the reminding - oh the reminding. Of all my shortcomings. Of my sin. Of my imperfection, my lack of holiness. How can a mere mortal like me ever become a priest? Do I even have what it takes to even give the Seminary a shot? Look at you - worrying, wondering - and you're not even at the Seminary yet. Those damned waves!

But, you know, there really is another voice there. I hear it sometimes right along with the others, not drowning them out by trying to be louder - but I hear it over the others because its closer. I hear a whisper. "You can." The whisper says, "Don't be scared. We're in this together." The voice in my head - in my heart - says, "Just one step today. You can do it. We'll go together. It's an adventure." Mostly, the Voice says, "I love you. And I will love you. And I always have."

I think of Peter, so anxious to follow Jesus. So anxious to live and be Holy. I imagine a heart burning to please God as best he could. Wanting to show his friend and mentor that he loved him - not for glory, but for love's sake. His whole mind at times, almost frantic to follow. "SURE I'LL CLIMB ONTO THE WAVES!!! You called - that's enough - I'll go." And before you know it...all wet. I wonder how many times those waves called out to Peter, "Boy, you'll never win. And in case you forgot, remember the rooster?"

But, Peter must have found the secret. That Voice. That whisper that saves us from ourselves. You know, I think it must be true for all of us - no matter what our journey. My "vocational discernment" is heading for the Seminary. Yours may be raising a child, teaching or serving in the church or community, loving your spouse, caring for parents... no matter where our journeys and our callings are leading us, if we're seeking God's will for our lives, I bet those waves call out to all of us at some point or another. Hey - I'll pray for you - you pray for me. The Voice of Truth says, "Hang out here with me, this is a different story, don't be afraid - we'll do it together."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Size of Monuments

Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, its easy to see that the Washington Monument is tall. But as you walk closer and closer to the giant white obelisk, you really begin to sense how big it is. The closer you get, the more you feel its size. Imagine standing at the Lincoln Memorial one second, thinking about the height of the white column, and then blinking an eye and standing beside it. BAM! TALL! BIG! You'd need a few moments to adjust.

I think that's what's been going on these past few days - a sort of shock. When I got the call from Father Mark, it was like a blink-of-the-eye change in position from looking at "the Seminary" from the Lincoln Memorial to - BAM - beside it. I felt the size of this next step, and was left a little off balance by it. But this weekend sometime I realized - um... I'm not standing beside it yet. August is 8 months away. I've really only begun a leisurly stroll along the mall toward it.

So, in lots of ways, I feel like I've regained my balance a bit. (Thank you God!) "The Seminary" feels a lot bigger to me today than it did 9 months or 9 days ago. But its not looming menacingly over me by any means. As I try to enjoy this stroll forward toward August, I'm sure it will gradually begin to seem more immense than it is today. Just like approaching the Washington Monument along the mall. But there's much to enjoy (and learn) on a nice spring stroll. That's the lesson for me today. Enjoy the stroll. Appreciate where its headed. And let the size of it all work itself out.


As an aside, I think one of the gifts God has given me in the last day or so that has helped restore some balance is finding others who've walked this path too. Being able to see how it was - and is - for them. I found one blog in particular from a first year seminary student, Jason, who arrived at the seminary along a path that seems similar to mine. If you'd like to check out his blog, you can find it here:

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Call...

A phone call, I mean. Although the phone call was a step on the journey toward trying to hear if - no, not if - a step on the journey toward trying to hear what the Call is I'm hearing. But, if you don't know me, that's all a bit confusing without some more information. So, let's start where I intended to start before I got all befuddled in these words.

The Phone Call:

"Hi Alan. It's Father Mark, and I've got good news. The Bishop has accepted you as a Seminarian. Call me back when you can." That's what the voicemail said. I cried - just as I had the day before after meeting with the admissions committee who advises the Bishop. I wasn't sad. Wasn't scared (though that came pretty quickly). It wasn't really joy either (though that is certainly a part of it as well). It was..., well I don't know.

You know, we read about Moses at the burning bush. He made all the excuses, wondered aloud and directly to God about the wisdom of sending him. He tried everything he could think of to avoid what he was hearing. But, Moses did have a reaction when he noticed he was standing in the presence of God. He took off his sandals - he was on Holy Ground.

Standing in my kitchen, listening to the voicemail while I warmed leftover pizza in the microwave, I cried. I think it was my reaction to standing on Holy Ground.

In many ways, my journey is just beginning. In some ways, this bend along the path is reaching its destination and I've been taken to the beginning of a new path. A path that, like the one before it, will help me hear and follow The Call for my life - whatever that may be.

I want to share the journey with you. Welcome to my blog. And if you can, when you can, remember me in your prayers. This next bend is a little more uphill - at least that's the way it looks from here. But I know it leads to the Mountain of God.