Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tending Sacred Fire: Homily by Rev. Dr. Barbara Billey, Priest ARCWP, Heart of Compassion International Faith Community, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (23 July 17)

Barbara Billey ARCWP, in middle, Deacon Karen Kerrigan ARCWP on her left, and Michele Birch Conery ARCWP on her right

Left to right: Michele Birch-Conery ARCWP and Barbara Billey ARCWP

Left to right Barbara Billey ARCWP and Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP
left to right behind Barbara, Mary Collingwood ARCWP, Dotty Shrugrue, ARCWP Donna Rougeux  ARCWP and Janice Sevre Duszynska ARCWP

"I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!" (Luke 12:49). In Luke's Gospel, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the depths of his soul and his love of God as he utters his mission to bring fire through his word and Divine Spirit.  His inclusive love and forthright speech about political and religious injustices provokes a social climate change. The temperature rises as Jesus' opposition intensifies, especially from the Pharisees who relentlessly force against him until his death. These are burning times.
Midway through his ministry of healing and teaching Jesus is well aware of his impending passion and death. In his human condition, imagine his sorrow and suffering as he anticipates what it will take to stay the course of his purpose. However, his grounding in love for his Abba and for us keeps him on track.
"Do you think I have come to bring peace?" (v. 12:51). Jesus is not interested in peace at all costs, or the sobriety of the status quo. He challenges us to stand at a fork in the road, to choose between being content with existing practices of oppression or to initiate necessary change that will realize his Divine values: equality and inclusivity, radical love, compassion, and hospitality of difference. Who among us is willing to go the distance to fulfill Jesus' vision of the kin-dom of God?
Inside out, outside in
All in intricate balance as
the wind takes us to the next
and the next until
we are undone by the ecstasy of
the cosmic dance.
Two years ago on July 25, 2015, I was ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest. On this day, we also celebrated the 10th anniversary of Michele Birch-Conery's ordination as the first Roman Catholic woman priest in Canada. I chose this date because it was close to the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the first person to witness Jesus' resurrection and commissioned by him to be the "apostle to the apostles." For those of you with us on that remarkable day, you may recall that our Gospel reading today was proclaimed then.
"I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what pressure I am under until it is completed!" (v. 12: 50). For several years prior to my ordination, I experienced opposition from my husband, parents and a close friend. I was often anxious, alone and confused. How could a choice that felt so true be met with such resistance from persons who supposedly loved me? Have you felt similar pressures over and against what you knew you must do?
Wisdom women came like wind carrying me to my destination:  Michele, Sue and my spiritual director, a Dominican woman religious. They knew what it meant and what it takes to tend sacred fire and they were with me every step of the way. I completed my program of preparation and a doctorate in ministry. The quiet, sustaining presence of the Sacred took me into each next step, then and now.
On the day of my ordination I could truly say the words of the ordination rite, "With the help of God, I am ready." At least I thought I was. The path since then has been fraught with land mines and perilous pitfalls. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, my husband had a third cardiac event, my best friend had numerous health concerns, and conflicts arouse among our pastoral circle. Michele and I were establishing this faith community and my caseload for work doubled. I also entered the very real fires that come with menopause, which began one month before my ordination.
The stress of these changes manifested as chronic pain and fatigue. There were times I walked on the razor's edge of unraveling. There were also many joys and blessings along the way, including the gift of each one of you in our Heart of Compassion International Faith Community. My husband and family eventually accepted my priesthood and now give support in many ways. For me, this has been a lesson in patience in the Spirit and deepening trust in the abiding presence of the Holy One.
Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right (v.57)?As you well know, divisions, both inner and outer, are expected as we navigate the wild terrain of our sacred calling. They can be messy and disrupt our sense of self. We are often faced with intense emotions - grief, anger and sadness -that trigger habitual patterns of mind and reactive behaviors such as judging of and defensiveness toward others. The spotlight shines on how we live Jesus' way and what we need to grow into. These are opportunities for profound transformation.
Conflict is not comfortable for most of us. By engaging conversations that are non-violent we can find a way through our differences. Sometimes this means evolving to a new way of being together. For some of us it's necessary to accept our differences and to go our separate ways. In the case of violence, abuse or oppression, the choice to depart is often complex and necessary.
This past week the Windsor Star, our local daily newspaper, featured an article about the Conflict Kitchen. An owner of a restaurant in Tel Aviv offers a 50% discount on meals if an Arab and Jew sit down for a meal together. Other restaurants and organizations are promoting similar opportunities for conversation across difference, a new movement called "food politics".

Here is only one of many creative solutions that encourages us to move beyond our conflicts, to risk necessary endings and holy beginnings. We need to free our energies for the real needs of our times: care of our earth and one another, especially refugees and many marginalized persons in our midst. Like Jesus, we enter the fire and become humility in action. Are we ready?

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