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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

Identity in Christ…?

#lentreflections #lamentandhope

Adventure and exploration

I have been on annual leave this week and spending a very relaxing week in Sorrento, seeing the sights and sampling the delights of the surrounding areas – I never believed it would be possible to be sustained on a diet of pizza and gelato, but it seemed important to try it out!

I don’t speak Italian at all, and have never been to Italy before. As soon as we arrived I felt out of my comfort zone with languages being spoken around me that I did not understand, people ushering me through before I really knew what was expected of me. I learned grazie very quickly, but that was as far as it went. I noticed that I became incredibly shy, not really feeling confident to ask for things and tentative to step out from pavements. I was more aware of things going on around me, and soon realised that I was no longer on auto pilot – I was displaced, or dislocated, and acting accordingly.

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This can be a positive experience, but it can also be negative depending on the circumstances. For me on holiday it was of course positive, and I enjoyed being more aware of all that was happening around me, but this heightened attentiveness can be extremely tiring. I was drawn to thinking about those who may need to live in this state for some time due to circumstances beyond their control such as refugees and asylum seekers. Current UN figures suggest that 28,300 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution – a fact which I find completely mind-blowing and which has been a huge focus of prayer for me this week.

I wanted to understand more about these new surroundings and find out what situations have helped to shape this society – perhaps that is a normal tourist thing to do, and the tourism industry makes it very easy for you to find out about popular or well known places and events.

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Pompeii was an obvious place to begin, and was a stark reminder of unforeseen circumstances which can lead to unthinkable loss.

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This was a cast of someone found during excavation centuries after Vesuvius erupted and yet the fear within seems to have somehow been preserved…

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It can also be fascinating to look round and see who you are exploring the past with – and what findings might mean for each of us. I became more aware of individual uniqueness, shaped by society and culture, but also standing separate from it at times.

Herculaneum was the next trip. Whilst a much smaller excavation site, this was evidence of a richer people also devastated without warning.

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Following this, we went to Naples for the day – that was a completely different experience and not entirely positive. Without the protection and comfort of guides and other tourists making up the masses, Naples felt slightly scary – especially when we happened upon a whole street seemingly dedicated to selling rubbish and illegal items. After a two hour search for somewhere for lunch, and countless moments of feeling vulnerable and seeing people stare at us, we headed back to eat near the station. There was something incredibly insightful about that negative experience of being in an unfamiliar place though, and feeling so incredibly lost whichever direction we took.

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Not understanding what something meant was a common occurrence. We saw this “J’existe” statement a lot in graffitied areas, and I wondered who was seeking affirmation of their existence in this society? Who gets lost in the crowds in our societies?

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Following the Naples excursion we returned to Sorrento by ferry, and what a beautiful experience that was. The sea was such a comfort from the streets of Naples, as was the beautiful sunset, drawing us back into its light.

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There was so much beauty surrounding Sorrento, especially in areas which managed to escape the crowds, and so much to explore. Whilst there will always be much more to see, I found it interesting that deep in my knowing I was drawn to places of peace and calm, and away from the crowds.

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My natural leanings are towards solitude; that gives me a greater responsibility to find the balance between being in the world and seeking to understand it and being slightly separate from it, following the ways of God instead – it is such a difficult balance but one which is well illustrated in the experience of the tourist. How do you manage to stay true to your identity and experience which has shaped you, whilst also embracing the other that now surrounds you? As my poem Torn on Tea begins to explore, this new and different surrounding can be intoxicating and mesmerising, and even where our formative experiences seem less interesting, they will continue to be the ones that we most understand and draw us back to who we are….

 

 

Inside

#487 #inside #artistsandwritersinreadingprison was a thought-provoking exhibition around themes which are pertinent to life on the inside, for those on the #outside. #freedom #oppression #justice #identity #fear 

#235 #deadwood led me to reflect more deeply on the theme of #identity at a #quietday in #dioceseofleicester yesterday. Thinking about our identity in #christ and our future identity as deacons and priests made me think about my core. When a tree is cut down age-defining rings give an idea of how old the tree is as what it has experienced with regards to weather patterns. I wonder what my core shows about what I have experienced and how it has defined me…what would you want your core to show? What would you want it to skip over? (at St Mary in Charnwood C of E Church)

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