Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Glowing "embers"

Today is Wednesday, and a traditional observation for Anglicans of one of four sets of Ember Days in our liturgical calendar. Not exactly in the top ten of the annual cycle of feasts and fasts...and somewhat obscure and useless to us in the modern world, divorced as we are for the most part from seasonal processions...and from the traditional willingness amongst the faithful to embrace a period of fasting. "Heck," you might postulate, "it's tough enough to set aside time on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and now you want me to fast for three days, four times a year starting on the Wednesday following 1 Lent, Pentecost, Holy Cross Day and just before Christmas?"

Still, these days hold a special place in my heart. One of the traditional linkages forged between these days and the life of the Church is that early on they were set aside as being particularly auspicious dates for ordinations. Since, then, I get the sense that has fallen by the wayside, but the emphasis on intercession being made for those called to all levels of ministry is the healthy and provocative remnant. For me in my experience, it meant that as a candidate for Holy Orders, I was required to take those four times a year as occasions to contact my Bishop in order to inform him of my current state of being, how my life, education and formation were proceeding and to make sure he remembered my name and where I was going to seminary.

For over five years, through seminary and on into ordained life, I kept up the practice of writing those letters. I admit that from time to time the form got tedious...and I confess that I paid a price when during one of the more "evaluative" seasons of my life in which my letters were being reviewed by the Commission on Ministry I sent my bishop a four page update on my life in couplet verse. Too many years at the feet of Dr. Seuss books made the temptation to monkey with the system irresistible. One priest who sat on the commission at the time, and is now a Bishop of the Church, reminded me of that event-ten years later-and told me his joy at seeing someone so in love with Christ that he wrote in verse...and then he winked and told me that it was him and two other old friends who bailed me out of that particular BBQ pit of my own making.

Still, this day, and the early morning Eucharist we shared in a small group at 8 AM, was a wonderful reminder of how intimate over time the life of Christ, and service to the Church, can truly be. I can still hear the stentorian voice of my ordaining bishop after one sad Ember Day letter to him in which I lamented a tough break I had experienced in my personal life. I can still savor the sense of knowing that out there my words were being read...and that I was known to someone who had a great deal of power over me during a tender season of transformation.

And, I can take to heart the words of St. Paul from this morning:
The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
-1 Corinthians 3:8-11
So, even as one leader rises up, another is preparing to take their place in the line. As one leader turns to new paths, or to another phase in life, there are others to support the work. Ember Days, for me, are a time for mindful awareness that we are all interims. All of us, no matter how powerful and successful, are simply filling in after our predecessors exit...and until our successors arrival.

That is good food for thought.

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