Monday, May 24, 2004

What Do You Want? What Do I Want?

Sometimes I feel like this physical vessel I call "me" contains two different entities. The tension between them is the cause of much confusion. For the last few years, the internal chaos has been dramatically reduced. But it is still there.

I've finally found myself at the point in life where I can more objectively observe this tension. It is questionable how objective such observations actually are, of course. Finite humans are doomed to be always bound by the limitations of subjectivity. The thing observed is our perception of it, not the thing as it actually is.

The latest observation is the huge difference between my public self and my private self. Let me offer a couple of examples to explain;

This weekend, I officiated at a burial rite on Saturday. I knew four people who were present. As the family gathered, I found myself shifting various details of the rite. The basic format was already in place; the Book of Common Prayer defines the structure of the order of service. But a lot of details are left up to the discretion of the officiant. In talking with the family, changes were made regarding lessons, and my homily, even though these details had been discussed prior to the gathering for the rite.

On Sunday, I was celebrant at one Eucharist, followed by a community meeting, in which I offered a presentation based on the theme, "Who Are We Now?" Once again, I made changes at the last minute, including almost completely rewriting the sermon, and fine tuning the presentation. The changes were based on subtle pieces of information picked up as the people gathered.

These kind of last minute changes are not unusual, as most clergy will tell you. I think they are more common for interim clergy, as we have less time to get to know folks, and so have to put out our feelers even more to pick up the messages being sent by body language, tones of voice, and feelings in the air. It's a very intuitive thing; responding from gut feelings, but my experience is to trust those intuitions.

To do this well requires an emptying as much as possible of the self, to be an empty vessel. The question in your mind in every encounter prior to the liturgy or event is, "What do you want?" The people gathered bring with them their own corporate energy. The leader, or the facilitator, has to be a clear conduit, collecting these energies, and offering them, on the behalf of the people, to God.

It's not as difficult to do as it may sound. Intuitive types know what I'm talking about. After 15 years, I usually tune into the stuff floating around in the air without thinking about it. The difficult part is setting aside my own needs, in order to incorporate the needs of the community in our outward expressions of worship, study, and apostolic action.

Saturday I made some hospital calls. The shift from personal self to public self is sometimes even more pronounced in these situations, especially if the personalities of those being visited are quite different, which was the case on Saturday. My routine is to allow my mind and heart to wander in the drive over to the hospital; listen to the radio, argue with myself, get a cup of coffee, etc. Upon entering the hospital, I first find a place to wash up (a personal routine; one I suspect those I visit appreciate!). A transition happens when I take one last look in the mirror. The personal self begins to shut down. On the walk to the hospital room, the reflections are about the person being visited. A mantra of prayer begins in the back of my head, allowing me, most of the time, to enter the room with the conscious thought directed towards the person, "What do you want?"

After concluding that visit, all the "stuff" brought up from that encounter has to be set aside, or at least quieted down, before stepping into the next room. To be open to the needs of the next person requires becoming empty and silent once again. Sometimes, especially if lots of emotion was stirred by the last visit, I have to wander a bit in the halls of the hospital, or even step outside for a few minutes, before making that second visit.

This is all basic stuff; usually learned in Clinical Pastoral Education which is required during the summer of your first year of seminary.

What continues to shock me is the dramatic transformation that occurs when I get home, change clothes, take care of the chores, and am finally able to shift to a new question, "What do I want?" The flood of personal passions that have been shoved down during the public time can be overwhelming. At one time, they were literally overwhelming. I fell into a deep pit; a pit of my own creation no doubt; but still one that was deep and dark, regardless of who is blamed for its creation.

By the grace of God, I continue to crawl out of that pit. Crawling out requires letting go of some of the baggage I drag around (the image of De Niro dragging his armor in The Mission springs to mind). It requires me to ask the question daily, "What do I want?" and to be willing to explore the answers, even if they lead to paths that seem bizarre, and even dangerous.

I continue to ask that question every day. The answer is much simpler now than it was six years ago. I really don't want much, other than what I already have, and what I am already working towards. Many of the fires of earlier desires have died down, proven through experience to be offering illusionary fulfillment at best, and self destruction at worst.

It is confusing, however, to function as a clear conduit publicly, and a self-centered, narcissistic a**hole when alone. But I wouldn't ever want to abandon either of these personas. They both have their place. The public self provides a way to gather together the bits and pieces of a select group. The private self, not limited to the specifics of a particular group, can sometimes tap into a larger undercurrent; the collective unconscious, if you will, and give voice to both the positive and negative energies discovered there.

Although, at other times, the private self is simply engaging in a bit of navel gazing, and wanders off into tangents that may have nothing to do with anything external. And the public self sometimes works on autopilot, while internally fretting over some personal dilemma.

Why am I posting all of this? Because I am still new to this medium; blogging. I have yet to decide if this place is public or private. Sometimes I respond to the musings that spring from the private question; "What do I want?"...other times I am responding to the public question; "What do you want?" Both seem very real at the moment, although I am beginning to suspect that their juggling act may be a distraction to avoid the recognition of a third entity behind them both; an entity that is not confused, is at peace and is fully convinced that all is well.


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