There is a person I have considered a good friend...at least from my place of relationship. She began her career as a singer -- and she had a quality voice that would have taken her possibly to the Met. But something happened. It doesn't seem to have been so much physical as it was other factors in her life. Whatever it was, she lost her voice. No, she did not lose the ability to speak, or even to sing, the qualities of her voice that produced the wonderful operatic tones did something like "lock up." I am not a physical or psychological diagnostician, so I cannot evaluate. I simply know that she is a wonderful person who lost the fullness of her singing voice.
I share this because life is fragile. What we have and value most is so easily lost. It is part of the human condition. I have a rare and privileged vocation that puts me fully in the place of the most fragile of human conditions. No amount of education, training or expertise ever prepares a person for the impact of the kinds of crises where loss of treasured resources of personhood are threatened or removed. God seems to have given me a gift to walk in those places with calmness and vision. There are no words to describe what I have experienced and the profound thankfulness I have for the privilege to be on such a life-journey.
As this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I share both a reflection and an announcement. I awoke early this morning, made a cup of coffee and withdrew to my place of prayer with a heaviness of heart uncommon to my mornings. I began shedding tears of thanksgiving for those who have mentored me over the past 59 years (I'll be 59 on 30 Nov.). My parents -- both gone from this life. Bill Harben, my Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts -- an ex-Marine from WWII, who was tough but loving and caring. He believed in me when it counted. Mrs. Sheffield, Mrs. Ting, Mrs. Ruth, Dr. Gordon, Dr. Kandzer and those teachers/professors who encouraged me to go far beyond what I thought possible in my growing years. Coach Bill Duncan, who I hated but came to love for teaching me athletic and personal stamina. Dr. Sidney Jourard, under whom I studied at the University of Florida in psychology for introducing me to and encouraging me in the farther reaches of the human mind and heart. Dr. William Maples who awakened a deep love for human life....past and present...in all its forms. Fathers/Drs. Louis Weil, Ignatius Hunt, James Griffis, William Peterson, Richard Greatwood, John Ruef, Robert Cooper and Dr. James Dunkly who opened the doors of theology, liturgy, biblical literature and pastoralia in shaping my vocation as a priest at Nashotah House. They saw vocation more clearly than I did. LCDR John McCarthy, MMC Frame, Adm. Albert Kelln, CDR Walter Hubbell, YNCS Hank Buermeyer, Vice Adm. Rickover, Adm. Lewis and those of my Navy experience for discipline, courage in the face of big odds, stamina and a striving for excellence that I will always carry with me. Bishop William Folwell, who brought me into this vocation, ordained me and never let me (and many others) feel alone in the field of parish ministry. Bishops Vogel (who ordained me a priest), Gray, Little, Barry Howe, and others who have been either my authorities or colleagues (or both) for wisdom, patience and perseverance in the stresses of parochial leadership.
Then there are colleagues, parishioners and friends outside the Church who are too numerous to mention: save these, Dr. Kern Trembath and Fr. Paul Wolfe (at whose funeral I preached in March...my brother whose voice I deeply miss). Both have almost literally saved my life and my voice when I despaired the most. Don and Ron, who are current dear friends not in the Church, who caught me when I fell and raised me up. Ed, my spiritual director who challenges and holds me up. Larry, who believed in me when others did not. There are parishioners in my current cure, who are more precious to me than they know. I especially give thanks to Fr. Richard ("Dad") Bowman. He was my spiritual director for 16 years and "adopted" me as a son he never had, and I as a dad to fill a wounded place. I grieve that I could not be with him when he died three years ago. Fr. Tom Schultz, a monk of OHC who started teaching me deeper truths of the Spirit in 1980, and still teaches me whenever we can get together.
The above litany moved through my head and heart in the pre-dawn hours. Each had a story that became vivid in my inner light. I weep thanksgiving for each of them -- and the many others who individually came to consciousness. Childhood and adult friends...known and lost in the jumble of life. They are all out there.
Each of those persons gave me voice. They encouraged me to "sing my song" -- which is a way of saying "speak my truth in love." They gave me voice, and I owe it to them to use it. But, there is a catch.
Something is stuck. I've suddenly found it very hard to speak...that is, to express my deeper thoughts and feelings. It is the priest's craft and responsibility to speak -- even the things that are probably too hard to hear (even for the one speaking). I have run aground on the shoals of current opinion and judgment. The singer has lost his voice.
My craft is my life -- at least the biggest part of it. A vocation is a gift from God that is nurtured through education, training and experience....lots of experience. My capacity for this is being tested. If I talk too much, I may lose my voice altogether. I cannot risk that.
So, at this point, in the early hours of this morning, I made the decision: I am suspending the sharing of my thoughts, opinions, theological reflections and commentary on life events for a period of time. I need to conserve what I have to practice my craft from the pulpit and podium of my parish. What I have momentarily is small enough that (as my friend Kern Trembath says) I risk "using my seed corn" to keep the voice I need to do my primary work.
Chances are, I'll be back with articles, blogs and daily reflections on Facebook and other places. But, not for a time. Not until I figure out if my voice carries anything of real value and what shape it will take.
May your Thanksgiving be one of remembrance, gratefulness and joy. Make the season of Advent one of expectation. Slow down and live the experience. It's worth it.