Last Friday I published a blog post in which I announced that the Bishop of my diocese had granted my request to be released from my ordination vows. Although I remain, technically, a priest in God’s One, Holy, Catholic (i.e. “universal”), and Apostolic Church, I have been “laicized.” That is, I can no longer carry out sacramental duties—such as celebrating Eucharist—in any church which is part of the Anglican Church in North America.
I will, most likely, be saying more about the events and circumstances which produced this result, but not today. Today I want to share with you something of inestimable value which I came to appreciate more deeply as a result of this recent experience. God has blessed me with something so incredibly precious that I simply cannot keep it to myself.
I’m talking about friends, but not just any friends. Friends who know God and allow themselves to be the channel for a word from God to me. Friends through whom I hear the voice of God.
I have mentioned my friend Dean before. I have known Dean for nearly 34 years. He lives in another state, but we stay in touch, usually talking on the phone for several hours each week. And I don’t mean idle chit-chat. Our conversations are serious and substantive (mainly), and it is a rare week when I don’t hear God say something to me through Dean. That wouldn’t happen if Dean and God weren’t on such close terms. I couldn’t write a blog post about the way God has spoken to me recently through my friends without mentioning Dean, one of God’s choice blessings in my life.
And then there’s Rick. Rick and I met when we were both seminary students back in the ’80s. We developed a close friendship which continued for some years after we graduated, but then time and distance and circumstances took their toll, and far too many years passed without any contact between us. Then, through the providence of God and the wonder of social media, we reconnected via Facebook.
When Rick read that I was no longer serving as a priest, he posted a comment on my Facebook wall. Here is what he said:
It is the heavenly Father (who is not just there, in heaven, but here with us) who has called you to be His minister. You are just redirected, and now no order or authority can keep you from speaking just what the Father is saying for others to hear. Listen intently. Contemplate carefully. Speak and act boldly.
The Holy Spirit of God let me know, without a doubt, that those words were not simply from my friend Rick. Those words were from God.
And then there is Marina. I’ve mentioned, in previous blog posts, that I taught at a small, Mennonite Bible college for fourteen years. Marina was a student of mine. She took several of my courses, and she did very well in all of them. Today she is married, her husband is a graduate student in a major university, and they are relatively new parents of a beautiful son.
As a former college instructor, I am especially blessed in that many of my former students keep in touch fairly regularly. I am, in fact, doubly blessed since many of these men and women have become, not just former students, but genuine friends. Some months ago I wrote a blog post in which I gave testimony to this blessing, which I do not take for granted. I called that post “The Best People I Know,” and I meant every word of it.
This past Monday, after she read my last blog post, Marina sent me a message on Facebook. I have read it and re-read it several times, and every time I end up bawling like a baby. I shared it with my wife, and she needed to reach for the Kleenex too. We agreed that God spoke through Marina’s words. Here, with her permission to share what she wrote, is what God said through Marina.
As I read your blog post, I wanted to publicly express my support (hence the rather brief comments there and on your Facebook wall). My most heartfelt thoughts, however, I am sharing here.
When I said that this story tears at my heart, I meant it. There are tears in my eyes as I write this because I simply cannot believe that God would be this mean to you. And believe you me, I have told him so. It’s not the first time.
I can remember praying for you with tears after the chapel at RBC where you told us, through your own evident pain, about your daughter’s pregnancy (though there was rejoicing later as I saw your delight in your grandson). Then there was the whole mess of your termination at RBC, and Shirley’s illness, and your struggle to find your bearings, and I asked God, time and again, “Why?”.
As you began to consider leaving the ACNA, and then when you told me of your Bishop’s response to the status update you posted, I waited with bated breath, hoping that this time it would all work out, that you would find your place of service in this church that you had grown to love. But it was, apparently, not to be. And again, I have asked God on your behalf (whether you want me to or not), “Why?”.
I tell you this, not to turn your journey into a story of my heartache over it (which I can only imagine to be the faintest shadow of your own pain and struggle), but because every time I have come charging down the hallways of heaven to barrel into the throne room like a socially clueless five year old, I have gotten the same answer from God.
I don’t pretend to know if this answer will make things any better for you, nor do I think that knowing the substance of this answer (as I’m sure you do already) should erase the very real unpleasantness of this and prior experiences. I want to tell you, however, that every time I confront God about his treatment of you, I am overwhelmed by an inexplicable sensation that translates roughly into these words:
“Shhh. I know what I’m doing. I am making this servant into a son, who will be able to do whatever it is that I ask of him. I will never let him go.”
I realize that, to some extent, this is simply a platitude. I hope that you will forgive either God, for speaking in platitudes, or me, for not being able to translate God into anything but platitudes. I don’t necessarily think that you should find this altogether comforting—I find it a little terrifying—but I wanted to pass it on. Please know that He has not let you go. You are Christ’s own forever.
See what I mean about having friends through whom God speaks? And limited space prevents me from mentioning and/or quoting many others—such as Ashley and Brandon and Callie and Bruce and Ethan and Queena and Matt and Pete and Jared and Tim and Jason and Josh and on and on. And then there’s Preston. Like Marina, Preston is a former student of mine. He recently graduated from seminary and is serving as a pastor in a church not far from where I live. He was a stellar student, and now he is a faithful shepherd to a flock of God’s people. I am honored to call him my friend.
Last winter, Preston noted a particularly melancholy thread in some of my blog posts, and he sent me a long letter in which he expressed his concern for my spiritual and emotional well-being. I wish I could share it with you in its entirety, but I have not asked his permission, and this post is already too long. At the end of his letter, he quoted the words of a Celtic prayer which a friend of his had used to comfort him and his wife when they were going through some deeply painful days. In that prayer, I heard the voice of God speaking to me as clearly as if He had been standing there in a physical presence.
“As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of your face from me. Yet, if I may hold your hand in the darkness, it is enough. Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going, you do not fall.”
Amen. I am blessed.