Monday, April 4, 2011

Progress Report: What do you do?

I realized this morning with a small jolt and a sliver of regret that yesterday was an important personal anniversary for me and that I'd forgotten to mark it in any way. I hadn't paid much attention to the date, and it just didn't really sink in until today.

What anniversary? The third anniversary of my "leap to freedom," otherwise known as the day I renounced my ordination and returned to the ranks of the vast majority of humanity as a blessedly ordinary human being.

On the first anniversary of this occasion, I chronicled the days before and after my renunciation ceremony in several different blog posts. There was the famous (and perhaps my favorite) story of the Two Books, and the story of The Day After.

Last year I told a fuller yet still condensed version of my journey from childhood to ordination and out the other side when I spoke one Sunday afternoon at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland. I posted the text of what I shared that day in four installments, each of them titled, "Upside-down and Inside-out." Here are the links to parts Two, Three, and Four. Just in case you are new to this blog, or you feel like reading what I wrote a year ago.

So, here I am, three years out of ordained ministry, and what do I have to say for myself? Where has the journey taken me?

There are so many ways to answer those questions, and I'm going to respond by answering still another question--one that I believe I've posted about before. The question I have most dreaded being asked (even more than the "Why did you quit the priesthood?") during the months of these intervening years. That most dreaded question has been: So what are you doing now? or, more simply, What do you do?

It's a question that has often found me feeling inadequate, even ashamed of my seeming lack of progress toward any sort of clear new "identity" to replace the one I had given up. By identity, I guess I mean "professional identity"--otherwise known as an occupation, a career niche, or even simply a temporary job, like, "I'm a barrista at Starbucks" or "I am working the phone bank at L. L. Bean."

There have been many times when I've felt that anything, any one clear specific answer would be better than the vague, amorphous nowheresville that has been my deep down, frank reply. "What do I do?" I ask myself, wait a few heartbeats, and come up empty. Then make up something to cover up my shame and embarrassment--either a lame joke or my best and clearly unrehearsed babbling answer. (The singer-songwriter, blogger, and women's coach Christine Kane once said that when we're in those in-between places, the ego, ever vigilant and out to protect us, is apt to advise us loudly and clearly: "Quick! BE SOMETHING! Anything! Anything's better than being nothing!" It takes great fortitude not to obey.)

Funny, I've often not felt that painting was a legitimate part of the answer, even though painting is something new, something joyful and energetic and true that has entered my life since leaving my ordination behind. (My painting life began in earnest barely a month before my ordained life officially ended.)

But things started to shift last fall. I at least began to have a rudimentary answer to the "What are you doing these days?" question. I gave myself a little preamble about living a "patchwork" life, stitching together a couple of different avenues of work for which I'm paid--some consulting, some writing, some spiritual direction, and my painting. That at least felt truthful and got me off the starting block, though my answer at times was still rather mealy-mouthed and apologetic.

When I told a friend of mine just after Christmas that I was "kind of a spiritual director and kind of a life coach," she said in her lovingly, humorously honest way, "You might want to sharpen that up a bit."

Little by little, sometimes feeling as if I'm clawing and scraping my way along a sheer rock face, I think I'm getting somewhere. Getting closer to being able to answer with wholehearted integrity-bordering-on-enthusiasm. My attempts to practice and hone an answer feel more genuine and less driven by ego-panic. (It's always easier in the privacy of my own writing than in the face to face moment. Guess I need to keep practicing!)

So here's where I am today in answer to the hypothetical question: What do you do?

I do many things! But I feel hugely blessed that I especially enjoy doing two kinds of work: First, I'm a painter, and I love giving people experiences of delight and celebratory energy through my paintings. And second, I'm a spiritual director and life coach, and I love helping women to connect more fully to their inner wisdom, truth and authority. I love helping women to listen for and pay attention to their soul's language and longings, to claim their passions and power, set goals and take the steps to reach them.

What a difference three years can make!

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