“Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats, I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.” Mary Oliver, Upstream
Ash Wednesday, 2017
Having been to California and now in New Mexico, I have pretty much missed this winter’s snow and cold (although I really haven’t “missed” them at all!).
I write to tell you that I am doing well. I am “coming along fine,” as the doctors say. And I really do feel improvements. A number of roadblocks prevented me from having the surgery that I was scheduled for in Santa Monica. As it turns out, it’s just as well. That surgery, Anterior Cervical Fusion and Discectomy (from C3 through C7) would have been fraught with risks, and there was no guarantee it would have helped with the overall problem. In fact, it’s clear now that had I been “fused” pretty completely along the neck, not only would range of motion been limited in significant ways, but typically what follows is the wearing down of the discs on either side of the fusion (ultimately leading to more surgical fusion). Plus, a lower back MRI discovered herniated discs and other problems, especially at L3 through L5.
The regimen that the doctors here are engaging is a lengthy process. It involves an ongoing series of stem cell treatments (mesenchymal stem cells…which are surgically removed from the hip and other choice areas, then centrifuged and “enhanced,” then, every few weeks they are injected in the disc areas of most damage and degeneration. Also, they do platelet plasma replacement therapy, a similar procedure, except this is done with the blood. I also go to physical therapy each week (3 hours each time) and I do traction and regularly wear back and the cervical brace. I’ve also begun aqua therapy which has been beneficial.
I want you to know that I’ve written to the Bishop requesting retirement from active ministry for reasons of health. (I mailed that letter to the bishop more than two weeks ago and was going to wait to hear back from him before sharing this news with others… but, well, I suppose he’s a very busy person… I am most grateful to Bill… I ran the letter by him and he was able to give me some helpful insights…and, his response to me through all of this has been nothing less than incredible… so supportive… so loving…).
I certainly have all the medical documentation to verify the need for this request. And my doctors are in agreement. Still, it has been a very difficult decision to reach. I’ll be forever grateful to Bill Graney and so many precious others for welcoming me to Resurrection. And thanks be to God for the people of Resurrection, what other place would tolerate my “theology?”
It’s true that my body hurts. But my heart hurts as well. While my “medical” impairments are cervical injuries and lower back problems and high blood pressure and anxiety and depression, etc., etc. My “wound” is church. I love the church dearly, I always will. I will die a priest. But I cannot detach myself from the damage and disregard that continues from an institution of a close-minded system which has, and continues to, fail so repeatedly.
I need a new reason to live. And I believe I am finding it here. I realize that so much of my fear-based paralysis over the past years has been my own wallowing in depression and a sense of impending ecclesial doom. I had so ‘removed’ myself from “life,” that all I did was hang around the barn, walk my dog, and gaze at trees. I had lost the motivation to do anything “more.” (Since returning to the parish in 2001, there was a three year period where I had not eaten one single meal with another human being… for someone who “celebrates” the sacrament of “meal,”… that’s a very sad realization). I had gotten lost in a dark pit and did not know the way out.
This has not been easy. But it is the right thing to do. I am happy here and feel like I am finally ‘awakening.’ I know that were I to continue in the parish, I would fall back into the sadness (and grey feeling) that the east coast elicits in me… as well as the frustration of feeling mute in a church (institution, not Resurrection) that is desperate for reform.
Having the freedom here of doing what my training and (small) gifts allow me to do: I will continue to preach and preside at mass, if/when/where needed… helping others dealing with addiction, working with folks struggling with grief, PTSD, depression, bipolar, as well as being more of an advocate for the homeless and the rights of women through the connections I am making here… without having a fear-based “first concern” regarding “what my bishop might think”… has been so liberating.
A key indicator to how I know that divinity has guided me here are the fact that I am aware that I really am happy here and… I have not been angry, not once, since I’ve been here. It is so Beautiful here…. As Father Francis of Assisi would say, “il vestigio di Dio” (the fingerprint of God!).
The story is so long and there is so much I want to say, yet this letter is already too long. But there are people who mean so very much to me, like you, that I wanted to tell this to myself, before “word gets out on the street.” This way, when the word “breaks,” you’ll know, from me, what the truth of the matter really is.
I am filled with gratitude, more and more, each day. I give thanks for life, for the blessings of so very much, for Beauty… and certainly, for the gift which is you.
With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats, I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them….
Perhaps I thought putting on “so many coats” would wrap me in security and comfort. But so many coats can bind, restrict a person from the freedom and movement that life in the Spirit demands.
Healing is like the removal of so many heavy coats. When the Sun is shining so powerfully, so generatively, you realize, in order to Live… you must remove all the excess, all the restraints, all the ‘funeral bindings….’
May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.
And Jesus said, “Untie him… and let him go free.” John 11:44