yes, truly, with all my heart
A week from Sunday, Dan and I will be ordained as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.
The prospect unnerves me a little, as many things do lately. These days, I am a small, injured creature, scared and sad, burrowing into my den to curl into myself. The winter days, which I do my best to celebrate, are unrelenting. It snows everyday. We shovel, but there’s nowhere to put it. In some places, we are literally up to our ears in snow. When the clouds broke a few days ago, I spent the whole afternoon gulping down its azure nectar. The next morning, dawn stretched its peach fingers over the house, giving me brief hope, and then was swallowed up in grey. How much longer can I hold on?
My bones are winter-brittle, making it difficult to summon any kind of resolve or to look on things with hope. Ordination seems wildly impossible, the way a marriage does to one who knows human nature. Who can make these kind of promises? Who can say, “Yes, truly, with all my heart”? Aren’t we Christians well acquainted with divided hearts? We know its fickleness, the way it tries to deceive everyone within earshot, including itself. We know its indiscriminate affections.
I feel the difficulty of that sort of wholehearted, lifelong promise especially because I’m absolutely nearsighted when it comes to life plans. I rarely set goals, not so much because I’m lazy but because I want to leave room for the unexpected. I’m not a go-getter; I’m not a reach-for-the-stars kind of person. My posture is one of reception: accepting what lands in my arms or on my path and folding it in. Ordination, though, demands that I commit myself to something decades down my line of sight. For heaven’s sake, I’m only twenty-five! Who knows what comes between now and death?
I’m laughing now, reading those paragraphs over, because I could as easily have written them about marriage. We are fickle. Our hearts are not pure. We recoil from commitment. Which is precisely why we make these absurd promises. If Dan and I hadn’t, we’d never have encountered the beauty and the blessedness that follows. Vows—marriage, ordination, baptismal—usher us into a space we couldn’t have entered any other way. They preserve that space, work to protect it from the unholy intrusions of the underbelly of the heart, the impulse to flee at the first hiccup, the sloth we receivers are prone to.
Recently I read (can’t remember where) that we don’t keep our vows so much as are kept by them. Vows keep us. Of course we can’t keep them on our own strength! That’s gospel truth.
Which is why, I think, we don’t put the burden of the call on the ordinand. No one’s fool enough to believe that seminary graduates have the wisdom, foresight, and purity of heart to call themselves to ministry. God does the calling, and he does so by way of his church. The ordination liturgy asks, “Do you believe in your heart that you are called by Christ’s church, and therefore by God, to this ministry of Word and sacrament?”
Yes, in fact, I do. Over and over during our years in Holland, we have heard clearly the voices of our congregations, our friends, our mentors—calling us to this life work. So we’re not in this alone. The church has called us. The vows will keep us. The Spirit will sustain us.
The word ordain includes the meaning “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order.” By making these vows, we have been set onto a path. A path that has presented itself, a path that we can’t see the end of. But a path that promises grace we wouldn’t otherwise encounter.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Lord, sweep us into the broad plain of ordination, and let us see you.