Why and Why Me? A Tutorial in Mystery and Letting Go

The thing I care most about is encountering Jesus, being in loving, intimate relationship with him and inviting others into that place insofar as I can. Jesus called my name as I stood alone as a young child in my parish church, and there I first felt the deep longing that has been the touchstone of my spiritual life.  I am most myself and know it whenever eucharistia spontaneously wells up within me:  “It is right and just, proper and helpful to salvation that we always and everywhere give you thanks.” and yes, “We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you.”

My call was not to religious life though I searched there for six years.  I set out from there with no plan but to become a religious woman. The Lord called me to liturgical ministry when Bob Dufford, SJ, my guide through the Spiritual Exercises, invited me to join a small band of musicians and singers at St. John’s Parish at Creighton University. In their company I grasped that liturgy at its core is the work of the whole People of God.  I learned to sing from the inside out, to listen with others for the feelings (not thoughts) evoked by the Scriptures so our music choices might support the community’s prayer.  From personal experience I learned that good celebrations strengthen and nourish faith, poor ones undermine it.  I participated in countless workshops where Bob taught, encouraged, and mentored music ministers hungry for deeper understanding, wider vision, and greater skill.  I longed to help others experience the relationship with Jesus I had felt as child in his presence, knowing eucharistia and finding strength for the journey of discipleship.  So I left Omaha and a corporate career for Berkeley to do liturgy studies with the essentials engraved in my soul, with one important exception – I had yet to appreciate the power of language, symbol, and ritual to shape our relationship with God, ourselves and each other, for good or ill, depending on their inclusivity.

My final graduate course, perfect for a would-be liturgist, was a practicum in the rites of the Catholic Church intended primarily for seminarians.  I was the lone woman among them, but was asked to do no less than they.  Vesting, praying, and preaching as a presider blew up every enculturated assumption I had about a gendered God, my feminine identity, the nature of baptism, and the entire ecclesial pecking order. “Virtual” liturgy it may have been, but it was stunning behavior modification therapy that left me before God without language for a long time. It was revelation with a capital “R.”  My supervising professor concluded his evaluation with: “You should be ordained.”  So I was brought me home to myself but left with profound questions and without moorings. Note: lay students are no longer allowed to take this class.

I’ve served as liturgist, music minister, sometimes preacher, writer, maker of sacred spaces, in sacramental formation, marriage preparation, retreats and women’s ministry. I’ve found fulfillment, challenge, confusion, stretch, enlightenment, humility and humiliation.  I carry scars.

But, ah, grace unlooked for. . . Just as I entered into ministry, I married my beloved Paul, my “second favorite Jew,” as I often teased him. A man intolerant of every form of religious hypocrisy, judgment and exclusion, Paul was my biggest fan and unfailing supporter for 26 years.  He asked questions and encouraged me to look in new places for understanding of my call.  “Service is not servitude,” he would say.  So I began to see the distinction between priesthood and clerical roles and that I make the presence of Christ real every day.  As I walked with him on his final journey, I discovered that everything in my life, every form of education and service, every joy and loss had prepared me for this.  Whatever was needed in this time was available to me – words, inner resources, ministerial instincts.  But mostly, there was the Love that gets one up in the morning to put one foot in front of the other.  Toward the end, Paul briefly named his inner work in language that would have done justice to the desert fathers.  Awed, I also heard echoes of my own sharing over the years. So I now name my love and service “diaconal” and “priestly” because it is: “This is my body given for you.”  If that were all over a lifetime, I would still say, “Dayenu!”  I now know my strength and have found my voice. From this place I am freer, more able to face my need for conversion and change, a widening perspective.

In these strange days, weaned from yet aching for our shared Eucharistic table, with Mary of Magdala I stand empty and grieving beside a tomb that contains our whole hurting world. Like her, I am also ready to let go and not cling to what is past. The resurrected Christ beckons. It may be enough and more than enough to simply meet him and celebrate eucharistia by listening, not preaching, and to wash feet . . .

3 thoughts on “Why and Why Me? A Tutorial in Mystery and Letting Go

  1. Suzanne,

    You speak about the power of language, symbol, and ritual to shape us and our understanding of God. And also you talk about about a need for “conversion and change, a widening perspective.”

    Putting those two ideas together, I wonder if there are any symbols or rituals that you find particularly helpful to you in this season as you seek to widen your perspective? Or is there a need to discover new ways?

    Concretely, what are the language symbols and rituals that will allow you to navigate this new wider space? Where will you find them and how might they change you?

    I look forward to continuing this conversation with you!

  2. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious thing we don’t see standing right next to it. I’m so grateful for your thoughtful response and I’m delighted to be walking in God’s presence with you.

  3. Suzanne,

    You describe longing as a touchstone in your spiritual life. What a beautiful description! How does that longing propel you beyond yourself and how does longing deepen your sense of yourself?

    I appreciated your comments to me about how the church stifles our imagination and confines us as women in ways that we are not necessarily aware of. What is your experience of creating possibilities in limiting circumstances? What nurtures a wider vision in you?

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