A poetic reflection on 40 years as an Episcopal priest
How does one…how do I measure my vocation
in service of the God I believe and love?
Do I count the mere number of years?
If so, which description
my sense of self (alway a temptation!)?
40? 2 score? 10×4?
Or in words
and, I pray, most not useless),
written and spoken
in conversations, personal and pastoral,
in innumerable audiences and assemblies,
meetings and gatherings?
Or in early-morning risings
after late-night retirings;
the hours between toiling
o’er ceaseless tasks
about how to do…to be better
(not more successful, more efficient so to do…to be more,
but rather, more faithful so to belong more to God)?
Or in sun’s daily-dawnings that came too soon
after restless, tempest-tossed nights of little…no sleep;
whilst pondering, praying
for the ailing, suffering, and dying,
for this or that soul or circumstance?
Or in life’s little deaths of my best self (all presaging
that inexorable moment of final passing):
of prayers unprayed (the devil of self-reliance obeyed);
of promises (to do or not to do something
or to be or not to be someone, somewhere, somehow) betrayed;
of precious, kindly words, more sentimental than loving,
to spare the tenderhearted from truth,
still, deeper truth, to spare myself the discomfort of bearing painful truth;
of pitiless, hurtful words when my preference and prejudice gave voice to my ill-est will?
Or in heart-bearing, soul-wearing the worries and woes of others shared confidentially;
entrusted to the forever-unutterable-quiet of my sealed-lips of secrecy?
Or in times of disregard of kith and kin
for the sake of the ever-ready apologia of never-ending-ministry;
the esteem of those I served to win
(and all the while, straining the bonds of truest charity
with the ones whose hands will close near and fast
upon mine when I, one day, close my eyes last)?
How do I measure?
In all these ways and more than I can render
(or, perhaps, dare remember).
Yet most in my o’erwhelming failures,
commending, commanding that I trust in Divine mercy’s boundless treasure.
Photograph by Pontheolla Mack Abernathy: Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Columbia, SC, January 15, 2017, prior to the service of Evensong on the occasion of the annual celebration of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.