Reflections on the Caux Scholars Program, Switzerland
When I first arrived, I didn't want to say it. I was tired of it. In fact, 'tired' doesn't even begin to describe what was starting to happen internally. I was losing the spark. The days when the love sparkled were beginning to seem like distant memories from another lifetime, when maybe I was too young to know what I was getting myself into. Maybe I was naive. Maybe it's time to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what love looks like. I'm talking about marriage. The "I do" that I gave God many years ago, was beginning to feel tired. I found myself having less hope, less expectation than I used to, wondering if the way I once trusted God with everything was simply immature and it was time to grow up, and realise that God isn't really going to guide and provide every step of the way. When I first arrived at Caux and met the other twenty one scholars who I would be living and studying with for a whole month, I didn't want to say it. "What do you do?" "Hi, I'm from Australia. I'm a Chaplain; an Anglican Minister." I was tired of the conversation, which would always either end quickly, or lean on me for direction, or go down the path of, "Can women be priests?" I didn't want to have that conversation, again. I was lacking the inspiration and beginning to wonder if I would go back to it, or decide to take my career in a new direction; one that might, in the end, make more of a difference in people's lives and just generally, be less exhausting to my faith.
Then, on my last day at Caux, our Professor, Carl Stauffer spoke to us about the Beatitudes. I started to write my own in my head: "Blessed are the tired, for they will be re-energised. Blessed are those who choose to love when they've stopped feeling the spark; they will feel it again." But why do that? The original is perfectly sufficient. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God." (Matthew 5.9). Suddenly, at 9am, on my final day at the Caux Scholars Program, this verse that I had heard referenced in Church many, many times, started to take on skin and bone, muscle and sinew. I could feel it's heartbeat and see its scars. I realised how courageous and beautiful this way of living truly is. I said it. I said it on the first day, "Hi, I'm from Australia. I'm a Chaplain, which means I'm a Minister in the Church ... a Pastor ... a Priest. I'm doing peacebuilding work with students in Australia ...". I had the conversation many times and I just kept showing up and being in the room. Throughout this week I have met peacebuilders from every continent, religion and ideology and from contexts that are hard for me to even imagine. I've sat with people who have been made to choose between being killed in their homeland, or becoming refugees in a foreign land, with no passport and no identity; people whose children have drowned at sea; people whose friends and family have died in conflict zones; people who live in unofficial prisons where they cannot come and go; people who have been held at gunpoint; people who grew up in refugee camps and people whose choice to stand for peace has cost them friendships, jobs, even their marriage. I've sat with the invisible injuries and held space for the maiming of the heart and soul to be described. There are injuries that hardly are named: violence and rape within marriage, a loss of faith in marriage and in men, and even the everyday feeling so many women carry, that they will be overlooked and disregarded in their workplace, simply because they are women, or that they will only be noticed for how they look. I stayed as open as I could, to seeing the invisible wounds around me, to taking people by the hand and inviting God into the brokenness. Sometimes it was praying. Sometimes it was telling stories. Sometimes it was simply listening. Sometimes it was holding hands. I began to see, that even in my faith fatigue, I couldn't stop. I couldn't not be in the room. I just needed to keep showing up, as I am, who I am, giving each and every person the same freedom to show up to me as they are, for who they are. That's pretty much all it is. It wasn't long until God set up some people to return the favour, and I found myself crying in the presence of new friends and simply admitting, "Ministry feels tired to me and I don't know why." Without judgement, I started to face my own invisible wounds of being a spiritual refugee and a foreigner in a strange land, where physical resources are plenty and the land is secure; but the spiritual food is running dry and the space I occupy is surrounded by invisible military on every side, telling me to say less, be less religious, be less visible. It's carrying the daily awareness that what I represent is painful for many, and tied to a history of colonisation, oppression and abuse of power. It's the violence of knowing that even amongst my own people, there are places where I will never be fully accepted, or where my voice isn't wanted, because I'm a woman, or an Anglican, or an ordained Anglican, or not the right kind of Anglican, and in many, many ways, it would be so easy to walk away. These aren't battles to be fought. They are a waste of energy, I tell myself. Perhaps my time and skills could be put to better use in the development sector, where I could still be a Christian but wouldn't have to talk about it so much, and I could just live it? And it would cost my family less. But then I remembered what I had forgotten: that I am blessed. This love that drives my life has made me tired, or perhaps more accurately, poor in spirit. It makes me mourn. It leads me to places where I feel meek and powerless and leaves me hungry and thirsty for changes that are slow, or maybe never coming in my lifetime. It drives me to forgive, to say 'no' to more money or a 'better' or more 'rewarding' career path, and to choose peacebuilding, even where it leads to exclusion and being sidelined. And I am blessed in all of these beautiful daily choices, because I am still in love. The spark, in fact, is stronger than it was when I was younger and knew less of the cost. I still love Jesus, as much today, as when I was fourteen years old. No, more so. With all of my heart, I want nothing more than to represent Him and His Church to the world, with all of my wounds and all of my fatigue, holding the hands of the wounded and the fatigued, knowing from the bottom of my heart, that we shall be comforted. "Hi, I'm Heather. I'm from Australia. I'm a Chaplain and an Anglican Priest."
By Heather Cetrangolo,
28 September 2020