Something has been peeking around the corners of my mind today. Not sure it's really defined enough to talk about, but I'm going to try anyway.
It has something to do with the tension between two different self definitions that unconsciously surface unless I stay aware. It's the perspective of being "a worm and no man" and being "higher than the angels." One is the result of false humility, the other of false pride.
Let me give a couple of examples; If Demi and I go to a movie that I picked out, and she enjoys the evening, I'm so proud of myself my buttons are ready to burst. It's as if I directed, starred in, and funded the entire film! On the other hand, if the dog makes a mess in the basement, and Demi discovers it, both the dog and I walk around with our tails tucked between our legs for hours; as if it was equally my fault.
Maybe a more benign example will work. Seeing a rainbow after a summer shower is a major event for me. I happen to really like rainbows. But, if I can share the sight with another, my joy is doubled. Once again, the temptation is to take full credit for that spectrum of color painted against the sky.
Where do these extremes come from? In most cases, I think the first self definition, of being a worm, needs to be dismissed. It suggests I have no role in any of the reality that unfolds around me. Of course I need to take responsibility for my actions, but a mistake is no reason to spiral into a self definition that most likely will do nothing more than justify future mistakes. If I think I'm a klutz, or a fool, or a bad man, that's what I'll be.
Sometimes it's as simple as changing your self definition. Growing up, I was often told that I was a bad boy, and, that's what I grew up to be; a major juvenile delinquent. The kind mothers told their children to stay away from. The species that only prowled at night when the rest of the world was asleep.
Eventually, I graduated from being a bad boy to being a bad man. It wasn't until I was sitting in jail at the age 18 that a simple truth hit me. A ray of sunlight was striking my arm from the window of the cold cell. I was thinking about how good it felt. I went on to reflect on the goodness of light; how essential it was for all life. Then it struck me; if I could identify goodness outside of myself, then there had to be some place within me, some reference point, that knew what it meant to be good. Maybe it was as simple as deciding to be a good man instead of a bad man? Maybe I could change my destiny by deciding to just start living life as a procession of moments in which I chose to simply do the next right thing? That was my last visit to jail as a resident. On future visits, I was a visitor, wearing a white dog collar. But that is another story, which I've already told.
Let me get back to the rainbow. What does a rainbow need to exist? Moisture, light, and an eye to see the colors. I do play a role; the role of observer. If I move towards the rainbow, it recedes; if I move back, it comes towards me. My eye, and my position, play an integral role in the rainbow's existence. I cannot take credit for it, as it is not my creation alone. But, I also need to recognize that I do have a rather critical role in this phenomenon.
What is my role as a priest? To claim it has nothing to do with me is to become much less than I think a priest should be. But to imagine that it is all about me is to deny those who come to me seeking something else, something more than any human can offer.
Maybe another example will help. When celebrating the Eucharist, I was trained to always keep my eyes on the elements or the missal. I was also trained to say the exact same words, and make the exact same gestures at every celebration. This I have done, for 15 years, as I think it is the proper ceremonial. My understanding is that the priest is a conduit of grace; not the source. Consequently, the more the priest can become transparent, to the point if possible of becoming invisible, the better. The focus is to be on the bread and wine, that become the body and blood of Christ. Any distraction, such as a changed word or a different gesture, is never appropriate. It is not about "me." As celebrant, I'm not sure if "me" even exists.
Without the training, I might not have learned how to be so transparent. So, to some degree, it is about me after all. Like the rainbow, it is a matter of the right person being present in the right place at the right time. But I am not blessing the elements. I am not causing the bread and wine to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. I am not God; but a conduit of God's grace.
So it is in life. Ideally, we are servants, serving that which is greater than ourselves. We are not slaves, but willing friends, who choose to serve. And in such service, we are given the opportunity to be co-creators with God, joining in the redeeming work of constantly making all things new. And that is an important role; a role that a worm, or a demigod, can never play.
Yes, I get a kick out of being the one to raise my fingers to the sky to point out the new rainbow. But my fingers are nothing very awesome, while the rainbow most certainly is.