The Feast of the Transfiguration marks the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which took place in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta four years ago.
I couldn't decide whether to post a picture of a dancing bird (see above) or a bird just taking off in flight (there'll be plenty of those to come, as I had a very productive photo session at the beach over the weekend). In the end, I went with dancing. I think that probably is always the right decision.
Plus, I don't feel that I've just taken off, even though I certainly did feel that way four years ago, including the slightly dizzying feeling of flying without a net. Now, I feel joyful, through and through. Every day of the past four years has been a gift, even if I did not particularly want to open some of those gifts. I used to joke that since I'd come to this vocation later rather than sooner, there was an intensity to it that made the time seem more accurately measured in dog years rather than people years. Only four years? More like twenty-eight!
But not really. In some ways it all feels very comfortable. In others, I still feel like a newbie.
I recently watched the first season of the BBC series Rev, which has become available (finally!) here in the United States via Hulu. The show revolves around The Rev. Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander), the (Church of England) vicar of a tiny flock in an inner-city London church, and his dealings with his wife, his assistant, his boss, the headmistress of the church school, and his few and eccentric parishioners. And of course with life.
While the show is funny, part of what I love about it is that it is real. The vicar is beset by the sorts of things that beset all of us in this vocation. Pride, fear, doubt, jealousy, anxiety, frustration, invitations to get hooked by all sorts of people and situations. It may look ridiculous (it is television after all, meant to entertain), but underneath, it is real.
The final episode is the most real of all. The vicar was criticized on the internet by a television version of The Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper (he got a -1 on a scale of 1 to 10 for his sermon, which he admitted had not been any good at all), which starts him on a downward spiral. In one short scene, he lies on a pew, arm dangling uselessly to the floor, praying. "Why, God, do you allow there to be kids who don't know what World War II is, and why did you send that reviewer on my one bad day (is that what I deserve?) and why is there litter all over the graveyard, and why do Nazis always live til they're 96, and why are African women on their way to get water for their starving villages raped by boy soldiers, and why are there no more bumble bees?" he asks.
From there it all goes south. He has lost his way, if not his faith. His most eccentric parishioner reminds him that people look to him because he's the vicar, but he blows the parishioner off. He does some stupid stuff. And some even stupider stuff.
Near the end of this sad show of stupidity, a policeman comes to find him and takes him to a hospital where someone lies dying. She wants last rites. The vicar protests - he's been having a crisis. He's not up to it. The policeman turns to him and says, "She's in pain and she wants release." And then, more sternly: "Are you her vicar or not?"
Adam Smallbone hesitates, but then, suddenly sober, he says, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom should I send, and who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I; send me.'" The policeman doesn't know what he's saying. Smallbone explains: "Isaiah, chapter 6. It was read at my ordination." And he follows the policeman into the dying woman's room.
Isaiah 6:1-8 was read at my ordination, too. Here am I; send me. Send me.