His was to be a long and heavy road. But all roads that lead to healing places necessarily pass through fetid gardens of defeat before arriving at redemption’s fresh air. His head pounded with that most precise of head pains otherwise known as the hangover. His drinking had become so bad in recent months that such things were unheard of in his experience. Why “hang-over” when one was already leaning over the edge of insanity?
He met with Kent, Roger and Reed for what seemed like hours, his stomach and his head reminding each other of their shared misdeeds. Soon, a sense of clarity began to come. They would determine an appropriate date when he would tell his story to the church board. Later, with the board’s direction, he would do so with the congregation. In actual fact, the board later decided to deal with it behind closed doors rather than alert the whole congregation of his woes and perhaps deepen rather than lighten them. Just as well, since the very thought of pursuing such public exculpation was more than his fractured conscience could bear. There was to be nothing delicate about any of this. It was without opportunity to either titivate the sad truth or remove himself from its consequences. His mind reeled and boiled and he was drowning in the stew of his own making. And yet, on another level, he had secretly hoped for this. It meant freedom and, if he still remembered anything from theology 101 it was that true freedom comes through the shame of another.
Since beginning his ministry at the church slightly more than two years earlier, he had immersed himself in the work. Mostly, it helped remove him just a little from the overwhelming sense of exile and loneliness that had stormed his consciousness. It was an Apollo sized burden of inner cataclysm that had taken him quite by surprise. He was a Canadian boy through and through. He bled white and red, knew the ethos of the place by heart, understood the bad inside jokes, stupid politics, heady talk shows, social pariahs, and art house music scene inside and out. Often had he quipped, “you can take the boy out of Canada, but….”
He knew her and she knew him.
So then, why the hell had he thought it a good idea to pack up and leave for a call in Oregon? For years, his spiritual journey had been tottering on the brink of collapse, built on a thin, wispy and kitschy evangelicalism that no longer supported his increasingly dangerous questions. Or, at least, the shoes didn’t fit anymore. He needed to stretch his theological arms, raise his head above the crested waves in the wading pool and look for deeper water, or else find land and toss the whole thing.
But other voices had grown louder in him. Subtle but insistent voices calling him to dig deeper, or in other places more suited to his shovel. His was a spiritual spade meant to dig from the left that had been tending garden from the right. They seemed incompatible, at least from where he was then. His limited vantage point disallowed view of the whole garden in all its expansive glory. He had grown tired of snap peas and longed for the bitter taste of something new and fresh but still excitingly foreign to titillate his bone-dry palette.
For as long as he could remember he yearned for all things ancient, dark and mysterious, thoughtful and mystic; a poetic theology wed to an older spiritual language better fitted to who he had always been. That yearning had drawn him into the heady confines of orthodox and catholic spirituality which offered a context for a more sacramentally nourishing, liturgically demonstrative faith. It drew him to places where matters of social justice and peace-mongering weren’t just hip, new phrases but built in, irrevocable realities. It meant moving to live and work among a church community whose notoriety (accursedness to some) was for its inclusivity. More intriguing still were the twice yearly worship services with the local Catholic parish, Ash Wednesday and Pentecost.
He was hooked.
The diverse little community in this quaint Oregon college town, pastored by the man now sitting to his left (pun intended) had been that place; the only place whose centripetal force had provided sufficient gravitas to pull him out of his home and native land. The journey however would prove much more perilous than either of them could have imagined. The stress of that journey, coupled with a DNA predisposed to narcissistic, alcoholic self-destruction provided a primary reason for why he sat in this very room under such horrid circumstances. A long, serpentine road lay ahead, the end of which, only God knew.
For him, right now in this room, that was enough.