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darkness

Identity

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Our sense of identity is so important for our mental wellbeing, and yet identity is a complex weave of so many different aspects of self, some of which we can control and some which we cannot. Four weeks ago I was ordained priest, and I think I can honestly say that the weeks which followed that long anticipated and celebrated occasion have been some of the most challenging I have ever had; they have certainly called me to question who I am in this new role. At ordination our Bishop read the ordinal for priests; it was quite an overwhelming moment just before taking my vows to hear all that is expected of a priest. The following is a small extract which summarises quite well the events of my last few weeks:

“…They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death….”

Every aspect of priesthood is a huge privilege, and yet the real and huge life issues I can be dealing with mean that it is easy to lose sight of a sense of self.

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A number of years ago I took a job with Loughborough University as part of the Widening Participation governmental agenda. This meant that I was no longer a teacher, and it was much more difficult to explain what I did for work. I had not realised how profoundly my identity had been tied up with my profession, and it was a painful shedding of something that had been life-giving for me; I came alive in the classroom, and loved the challenge of helping students to develop a thirst for learning and a passion and enthusiasm for my subject (Religious Studies).

I had thought that after spending a year as a deacon, it perhaps would not feel so different as a priest, but that is not so. Indeed, everything feels very different! It feels like I am revisiting aspects of identity all over again. For one thing the stole we wear as part of our robes when we are taking services is now worn over both shoulders, rather than just the one.

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It is a reminder of the yoke or responsibility that we bear as priests. Every time I put on my stole I am humbled by a feeling of insignificance – in truth I am not now, nor will I ever be ‘good enough’ for this, yet here I am.

Having the responsibility and privilege to bless people is truly wonderful; blessing or anointing people who are sick, or close to death is just beyond words. It is so painful to be alongside people as their loved ones pass on from this life, yet there is something compelling about needing to be there in the darkest moments, as well as those times of joy, in order that no one be forced to face these situations alone.

I have also been stopped on a number of occasions, asked if I am a priest, and whether I would mind praying for the enquirers who were usually people of different faith. It was as though they thought that my prayers may be, somehow, more valued.

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In addition to all of this the summer holidays began two weeks ago and each day since our church has been a Holiday Hunger hub, seeking to feed any children in our area whose parents cannot afford lunch for them as they usually receive free school meals. The stories that some of these families carry from a western country is truly shocking and leads me to another aspect of the role of priest which feels different as I explore it – that of advocate; helping people to find their voices and stand up against serious injustices.

Within all of this my identity has become more complex to pin down. It is not for shallow reasons that I might tentatively see myself as being what someone needs me to be in that moment, but rather for profound reasons: because God lives and loves us and I am called to be a person of prayer and peace to serve as a reminder of God’s love for us each and every day.

When I was much younger, an art teacher at school described me as a jack of all trades and master of none. That hurt me to my core as a tentative 12 year old, desperate to find that thing that I would excel in. Turns out I  excel in being a jack of all trades….

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Ascribed to Eleanor Roosevelt

Loneliness

I’ve been reading The Lonely City, which has seemed apt to be reading in the week of World Mental Health Day on 10th October. How is it that the loneliest places can often be the busiest places, where people go virtually unnoticed?

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We live life so quickly that it is possible to avoid meaningful conversations with anyone when there are so many people milling around – the more lonely one becomes, the harder it can be to reach out and ask for help.

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How soon those who feel isolated or desperate begin to have a slightly distorted view of life.

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Many of us seem adept at presenting a calm exterior with few truly knowing what is happening beneath the surface. Having a small circle of trusted confidants can be helpful, but perhaps we need to be a little more open and honest if we are to positively challenge attitudes to those who live with poor mental health.

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Where is the hope? Is it easy to identify, to grasp and quantify? Or do we need to illuminate it?

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How can we as the church, and as individuals, support one another when everything feels too much…surely we should be able to admit it, to scream out and join one another in lament?

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Being with someone in their darker moments means that we are also there when hope begins to reveal itself, slowly at first perhaps, nonetheless noticeable.

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Eventually it might become easier to see signs of hope, and possibilities, especially with someone walking alongside. Can we show bravery by being honest with one another when everything feels overwhelming? Equally, do we have the courage to stay by the side of those we care for when they are overwhelmed, and be with them in their times of darkness, acting like a beacon for them?

The light was good…

#690 “God saw the #light and it was #good…” #genesis1v4 See the lights on your path, and know that it is good – would it be possible to see the light without the #darkness which highlights it?

Catch the Light

#643 The sheer #beauty of the #illumination which occurs when #light intersects with #darkness makes me wonder whether both are necessary…if there was no darkness, would we appreciate the light for its power and beauty?

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Darkness into light

#639 “You, O Lord, are my lamp; you turn our darkness into light.” The #light and #peace of Jesus be with you. 

Longing for light

#489 #longingforlight #wewaitindarkness #longingforpeace #ourworldistroubled #longingforhope #manydespair #unitetoendviolenceagainstwomen Today I pray for those for whom the darkness overshadows the light. For those in #prison. For #victimsofabuse. For victims of #genderbasedviolence. Lord in your mercy; Hear our prayer. 

Looking for light

#488 Today is the first Sunday of #advent which marks the beginning of a new year. Today is all about looking for the #light which is to come in the midst of our #darkness. This seems really pertinent as I continue to reflect on the darkness which is experienced in prison sparked by #artistsandwritersinreadingprison

Christ the King

#480 #lightoftheworld #steppeddownintodarkness #christtheking 

Transformation

#314 So I’ve been preparing a presentation about suffering and sin based on #john9v1to12 which talks about blindness, darkness and #transformation with a conclusion around a wider transformation being needed that the light of Christ allows us to notice one another regardless of gender, ability, lifestyle or status…any thoughts? #lookaroundyou #whodoyousee

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