Sounds like the start of a mildly funny joke, doesn't it? It's true, though. One evening last week I had a fantastic re-acquaintance dinner with a former Catholic priest I knew over a decade ago when I was a volunteer chaplain at an AIDS hospice in Seattle. To protect his anonymity, I'll call him x-Father X.
Meeting x-Father X was a real turning point for me. It gave me a tremendous sense of validation to be invited to volunteer as a Wiccan chaplain. I guess that the fact that I was raised as a Catholic contributed to buzz I got when a man in a clerical collar asked for my opinion on a ceremony he was planning. x-Father X treated me as an equal, despite the fact that his own priestly training included all kinds of things that were absent from mine. He also helped me understand why smart, educated, reasonable people maintain self-identification with an institution like the Catholic church; it's the people, art, music, buildings, bells, and smells. In my secret, uncompromising heart I know that those are the tricks that the thought system uses to keep its hosts distracted, but I also have compassion for those hosts.
The chaplaincy work turned out to be too much for me to handle in my late 20s, and after a couple years I had to stop. I felt myself slipping further and further away from life. How I got back out of that place with help of a Siberian shaman will be the subject of another post at some point in the future.
Off I went into the Gaelic and Celtic music scene, leaving my life as a public Wiccan behind me. Fast forward over ten years. I'm still deeply involved in Gaelic, but a part of my mind and heart is turning back toward religion and spirituality. I develop this wacky idea that it's having just one god that makes people so easy to manipulate. I start digging into the roots of Islam and Christianity. I start writing this blog. My compassion for Abrahamic religionists is a distant memory.
Then, because the Gods love me and want us to succeed in restoring their worship, the phone rings. It's x-Father X, wondering if I want to represent Wicca in an interfaith dialogue on children's welfare. I decline, since I don't have children and am so completely out of touch with the local Wiccan community that I don't know who to send him to. However, we do set up a dinner appointment to get re-acquainted.
So, over a fantastic chicken Marsala, I remember my compassion, and my admiration for this man who gave up his position in the Catholic Church to keep his integrity. He loves Jesus. He believes there's only one god. He sings for the parish he belongs to. They have a PFLAG chapter that invited him to come and speak. His integrity and clarity makes me ashamed of the pettiness that still clings to my reasoning sometimes.
OK Gods, I get the message. I need to be as evolved as x-Father X. I'll get right on that. Thanks for the guidance.