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A Grief Observed

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Well Here we are again

Today is my last day in Athens The walls are clear, closet empty… I’ve packed up everything I own and am ready to move out tomorrow 13 months ago, I started a video with nearly the exact same words I was finished with seminary, moving out of Chicago, and looking forward to my first assignment I was going to be ordained a priest and serve at the University of Georgia

In that video I talked about how moving CAN be a traumatic experience—having to say goodbye, having to leave things behind—but that overall, it was rather invigorating Moving offers the opportunity for a new start At that time, all I could really feel was excitement I wasn’t leaving much, just school, and I had everything in front of me: ordination, awesome ministry, great fraternity, a blank canvas of opportunities There was so much hope for the future

Funny what a year will do to you Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not depressed or cynical or entirely flipped from where I was last year I think that any opportunity to serve the people of God is going to be fulfilling and offer its own joys My next assignment is going to be great, and I’m looking forward to it The details aren’t entirely worked out yet and the pandemic certainly makes some things a bit more complicated, but I do know a few things

At least for the next few months, but hopefully for the next few years, I will be living in Macon, GA, where the friars serve at St Peter Claver and Holy Spirit Catholic Churches St Peter Claver has a school with grades pre-K to 8, and down the road is a Catholic high school, and so I’ll be able to serve as chaplain to students ages 4 through 18 Downtown there’s day center where homeless men and women can get a shower, use the internet, eat some food, and really, just relax, which, is awesome

And of course… I’ll be continuing with this ministry… and may or may not be getting a nicer studio that’s twice the size I’ll let you know Overall, it'll be a great assignment, and I am looking forward to it Really, it'll be great I just don't want to leave here

When I say “funny what a year will do to you,” it’s not that I have no hope for the future or that I’m not excited about what’s next, it’s that, unlike the last move, I find myself almost entirely focused, now, on what I'm losing A year ago, I kind of glossed over the fact that moving can be difficult for some people, emphasizing instead the opportunity for a new start, because most of my moves had not been difficult I wasn’t really leaving much behind Leaving seminary was more than easy Going from house to house in formation meant nothing

Even leaving college was difficult, sure, but I had four years to prepare for it I knew it wasn’t going to last forever I was ready to move on But this… this is different I came here expecting to stay for 6, 9, 12 years

I came with big ambitions, grand plans, a vision for what my life would look like for the next decade I came with the intention of forming deep relationships, of putting down some roots for once It was easy for me to talk about the beauty of an itinerant life and moving from place to place… when I didn't really like where I was living It is a bit more difficult when I love where I'm living When I think about it, it’s something that reminds me very much of the experience of C

S Lewis You see, in 1940, he wrote a book called The Problem of Pain, a look at the question of theodicy, why bad things happen His response was hopeful and compassionate, not particularly affected by tragedies—God is in control, so have faith and things will be okay But things changed after 20 years

After the horrors of World War II, after his wife Joy died, he looked at the question of pain and suffering once again, this time with different eyes—quite literally, his Joy was gone What he wrote in his 1961 book A Grief Observed did not negate the truth of his first book He didn’t write to say that he was an idiot and didn’t know anything But he did write to say that there were certain points, certain experiences, that he may have glossed over having not felt them first hand It was easy to talk about pain at 25,000 feet; not so easy when you’re the one actually suffering

Having to move immediately after arriving is not normal, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but it does allow me for a sort of A Grief Observed experience fairly early in my friar life, a chance to move from approaching the issue at 25,000 feet to walking amongst it Feeling it for yourself, being subject to your own lofty claims… it gives you a different perspective I'm not going to sit here and say that my mind has been completely changed, that all of the sudden I think that itinerancy is bad and we should stay in the same place our entire lives, but I do walk away with a far greater appreciation of the pain that comes along with it A year ago it was very easy for me to dismiss the experience of older friars, to be less than compassionate when someone had to move after 15 years You’ve been there for long enough

You need to move How did you let yourself become so attached to things like this You know that’s not our life Now, having had just a small taste of active ministry, just a year of investing myself into the lives of others and seeing the fruit of this mission, I understand a bit better I see the dilemma they face, feel the pain they endure

I still generally hold the same perspective, but now have a lot more empathy Even if our fundamental principles don’t change, don’t underestimate the power that empathy has to affect HOW we say what we say, WHEN we say it, and WHAT seems most important to us If nothing else, it might make us less likely to gloss over the real experiences of others to make the point we want to make I hope that we all have these sorts of experiences from time to time It’s one thing to think the big thoughts in a classroom, to be an armchair expert, to make claims about the world from the comfort and safety of being far from it; it’s another to have our words thrown back at us and actually have to live them

As tempting as it is to want to jump to the silver lining or focus only the positive—something that I was adamant about last year—I think it’s more than okay to grieve It’s necessary Sometimes it’s the only thing you can do Not to wallow, not to have pity for yourself, but to bring the head and heart together, to let the 25,000 foot high theory touch down for a minute and see if it still makes sense Honestly, I don’t know much about what the future will hold for me, but I can tell you one thing for sure: I will certainly be more compassionate and empathetic because of this experience

And really, isn't that often what we need most? Now, obviously my life is going to be in a bit of disarray for the next few weeks so videos won’t be as regular, but I’ll do my best Peace and good to you all, and thank you to all the wonderful people of Athens, GA You will certainly be missed

Source: Youtube

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