It’s probably too soon to know for sure, but it just may be that I have finally “turned the corner” with regard to the course of my pilgrimage over the past five and a half years. If that turns out to be the case, it will be, in large measure, thanks to Arthur Lough. More specifically, it will be thanks to the soul-restoration I have experienced through the process of writing Arthur’s story.
An interesting phrase, “turning the corner.” In a context like this it means to pass a critical point in a process. It suggests that conditions or circumstances have markedly improved after a period of great difficulty or pain. It means that the clouds have parted and the sun has once again begun to peek through the gloom.
As I’ve thought about that familiar idiom, however, I think I see something else there. In order to turn a corner, you have to change direction. You must determine that the direction you have been headed is not correct, and you must alter your course by ninety degrees in order to reach your goal. That’s a significant course change, but it illustrates how serious the situation had become. It’s not a reversal. Things had not gotten that bad. But it suggests that the vessel had not simply veered a few degrees off course. Then again, even a few degrees off course, for a sufficiently long period of time, would require a sharp turn to recover the correct heading.
In any event, within the past few weeks, the cold wind and the dark skies seem to have given way, at least for a few hours a day or a few days a week, to a healthier climate with warmer breezes and sunshine. Reflecting on Arthur’s life has had a palliative effect on my spirit.
Over the course of his life and ministry, Arthur experienced countless occasions on which, he believes, he saw God at work in the midst of his circumstances. Although I am supposed to be a dispassionate biographer, simply recording Arthur’s story without critiquing it or allowing it to influence my objectivity, I find I cannot do that. I have been forced to choose between two options. Either Arthur is a man of faith, in which case his assessment of his life-experiences might really be true, or he is deluded. My conclusion: he is not deluded. I have come to share his belief that what he attributes to the intervention of God in his life has really been the intervention of God.
That gives me hope. God is nothing if not consistent. If He did it before, He will no doubt do it again. If He did it in Arthur’s life, He can do it mine. I am now convinced that it’s always too soon to stop talking about these things with each other. It’s always too soon to stop praying for one another in the midst of these dark times. And it’s always too soon to give up. For that insight, and the hope it affords, I say, “Thank you, Arthur.”
Now, those of you who are both spiritually and mathematically astute will have observed that the “dark night of the soul” marking the recent path of my pilgrimage has been, by my own accounting, of five and one half years’ duration.
“Is it not true, however,” you would be justified in asking, “that such a time-frame includes more than three years during which you pursued Holy Orders in the Anglican church, were ordained a priest, and served, at least on a limited and sporadic basis, as a minister of Word and Sacrament in that communion?”
“And have you now the temerity to suggest that your experience in that regard should, in retrospect, be regarded as part of your ‘dark night of the soul?'”
I will have to speak to that matter in much more detail at a later time. For now, I offer these three points in response.
1. In the course of four years of active involvement within Anglicanism, I met some wonderful people, many of whom continue to offer encouragement even as I try to make sense of the unpleasant experiences I’ve had in trying to relate to that communion in vocational ministry. I thank God for each and every one of them.
2. A few months ago, a friend asked me to recall the last time I experienced what I would call a “really happy” day. I told him that the only “really happy” day I had enjoyed in the past five years was the day after my ordination to the Anglican priesthood. I was floating on a cloud the whole day. (The actual day of the ordination was a bit nerve-wracking, but the day after was pure bliss.)
3. My hopes for active ministry within the Anglican communion, it now appears, were unreasonably high. When they collapsed, the fall was devastating. The consequence of such an emotional roller-coaster ride was demoralizing. It undermined my confidence and increased the depth of my gloom and despair. I am only now, one year later, beginning to recover from its effects. That is why, at least for now, I regard my bumpy ride with Anglicanism as part of the “dark night” experience and not a reprieve from it.
I will speak to this further at a later time. And it should be noted that I haven’t yet abandoned my hopes of finding a place of ministry within the Anglican communion. The polity of Anglicanism makes that possibility more difficult than it would be in the Free Church tradition, but for the present I remain hopeful. In any event, wherever my future path leads, I have become a lifelong devotee to Anglican liturgy and to the Book of Common Prayer, one of God’s most wonderful gifts to the church.
I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. If you are reading this blog post, you should know that you are at the top of my list of things for which I am thankful right now. Some of you share your thoughts with me after you read one of these posts, and I appreciate that so much. And even more of you pray for me, whether you write to tell me so or not. I can feel it. It’s one of the reasons I am able to say to you that, God be praised, I may have turned the corner.
Soli Deo Gloria.