Friday, March 12, 2010

Upside-down and Inside-out: part 1

It has been almost two weeks since my "coming out party" and I've been promising to put the text of what I spoke that day into my blog. Today I begin.

Because it was fairly long, I plan to post it in sections--just kind of feel my way along and pause when it feels right and sensible to do so. I may add some extra stuff, too--some of what I left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I imagine that I will write other posts in the midst of it, so to follow the continuous text from two weeks ago, look for the sequence of blog posts sharing the title "Upside-down and Inside-out."

OK. Here's part 1.

First, I'd like to being with an invocation, and for that "invocation" I'd like to read a poem by the 14th century Sufi poet, Hafiz. The poem is called "Tired of Speaking Sweetly"--translated by Daniel Ladinsky, though I've taken a few liberties with his translation, mostly with personal pronouns.

Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved Her choice, some nights,
She would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to week
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us into a tiny room with Herself
And practice her dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes want
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
She is in such a "playful drunken mood"

Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.


I began that day much as I do most every day--with a cup of hot tea and time to write in my journal.

It was Friday, April 4, 2008. And I wrote this: "Today I start a new life. Today I start a new life."

Yes, I actually wrote the same sentence twice (and then promptly stopped writing for a while). And while I wish I could say that the repetition of that sentence denoted enthusiastic confidence about this new life before me, that's not really how it was. I wrote it twice precisely because I needed reassurance. I was feeling really really terrible.

The next thing I wrote was: "I am so, so tired--deeply exhausted in my bones. I feel like I've been run over by a truck, or as if someone dear to me has died."

Which was pretty close to the truth. Someone dear to me had died. The day before I had formally renounced my ordination as an Episcopal priest, which had been the core of my professional and even my personal identity for almost twenty-four years. I had been ordained even longer than I had known David, my husband, and several years longer than we'd been married. And if you count the four years that I had spent preparing to be ordained--three in seminary and a one year internship--it had been twenty-eight years, more than half my entire lifetime!

Just for the sake of clarity, "Renunciation of the Ordained Ministry" is the Episcopal Church's official, canonical name for quitting, for hanging up your vestments and clerical collar for ever, giving up your license to practice as an ordained minister of the church.

In taking this step you are "released from the obligations of the Ministerial office and deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in ordination". To complete this action you are required to sign a statement, in the presence of the Bishop and assorted members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese, declaring that you take this step freely and voluntarily; and they in turn sign other documents, one of which will broadcast to a thousand different entities in the whole Episcopal Church the fact that you are no longer a priest.

The business of renouncing your ordination is both remarkably simple, and yet not simple at all. Enormous, in fact. Way way bigger than one individual person's inclination. (My guess is that the dynamics of renouncing my ordination are closer to those of getting a divorce than to anything else I can imagine, but since I've never gotten divorced, that's only a guess.)

And renouncing your ordination is essentially irreversible. This is not stated with absolute clarity in the Canons of the Church, but it's pretty well understood, and borne out by the facts, Mother Church isn't apt to hold open the door to clergy who jump ship and then have a change of heart.

So, back to the story line:
That morning, the morning after I had signed my way out of the ordained ministry in the presence of David and Bishop Knudsen, and Maine's next bishop-to-be, Stephen Lane, members of the Standing Committee, and several of my friends, I felt at least half dead. Half dead and full of questions. Scary, exciting, wide open questions.

Who would I be without my ordination? What would I do with my life? Who am I, anyway, stripped down to the essentials of my being, just myself in conversation with life in all its beauty and complexity on this extraordinary planet?

I know these sound like rudimentary questions, even like things I asked, but maybe never really answered, as a teenager and young adult. (I don't suppose we ever really answer such questions finally and fully in one lifetime, but it's not a bad thing to ask them now and then.)

But there I was, almost fifty-four years old, and I might as well have been an adolescent again, except that I had a husband, two teenaged daughters, and a lot more maturity and life experience than most adolescents. At least I hope so!

In many ways I felt as if I had no clue, like Dante coming to himself in the middle of that dark wood where the way was lost. I only know that I deeply deeply yearned to honor those questions, that if felt like a life or death matter to find the freedom to explore them, and I hoped that I would find some answers.


Anonymous said...

NOW the book is really rolling. My hand's at your back!


IndyAnne said...

My dear Sukie, thank you for articulating such a painful part of your story here. You capture so well what many people cannot understand, that leaving ordination is a kind of bereavement. The losses encompass not just the church, but the self and identity on so many levels. I cannot think of any other profession that requires such scrutiny. If all of that is not sorrowful enough, the church -- you said it: Mother -- lets you go for good.

I appreciate your work and am looking forward to the next installment.

Sukie Curtis said...

Thank you, Meredith!

And Anne--welcome!! I am so happy to have your company and your comments. I think of you often, knowing that your journey is moving toward ordination rather than away! And I am always grateful to have shared a powerful 5 day sliver of your journey on Whidbey (a place that Meredith first told me about!)

love to you both! Sukie