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Saturday, May 23, 2009

  • Posted on May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. –The Burial of the Dead, Book of Common Prayer

Today I want to remember a particular saint who died yesterday–the Rev. Fa. Paul Wessinger, SSJE. Paul was am Episcopal priest and a professed member of the Anglican order of monks, the Society of St John the Evangelist. He was my spiritual director for over 10 years. He was a spiritual marker and guide for me. He brought me back to my truest self again and again. The self that God had in mind for me to live into when God created me (see Psalm 139).

When someone that we love dies, it takes us time to figure out how to love them when we see them no longer. For Paul and me, we had some practice at this already. For the past few years, Paul has been deaf. He had to give up spiritual direction. When I made retreats at the monastery in Cambridge, we would see one another, but we had trouble communicating. Eventually, Paul moved to a nursing care facility close to the monastery–where he died in the night Friday morning. He was over 90 years old.

In his prime, Paul was Superior of the Order. He brought the Society to a place of deep inclusion–for ordained women, for ordained gay and lesbians, for those for whom the institutional church was less than welcoming. He continued to bring out the best in me–which, in the end, allowed me to be true to my deepest self. He loved the church yet he challenged the church to go further into Gospel living. He was and is a deep inspiration in my ministry for me again and again. On the day Paul died, he was that deep source of comfort and strength yet again.

As it turns out yesterday was also the day that I received some news that caused me–yet again–to wonder why I have been created the way that I am. I heard news–yet again—that being open about supporting social justice causes and living your life in a way that supports actively those causes continues to cause misunderstanding, exclusion and pain. As the Gospel for Sunday points out, following and then living out the Gospel is not such an easy road. In fact, it will lead to suffering again and again. But how can you be true to yourself and not live out the Gospel? As you live your life, there are times when you realize that the choices you have made for the Gospel exclude you from the very living you believe that God is calling you to do. How do you reconcile that?

That’s when I bring Paul into my heart. I imagine him sitting across from me in our room of spiritual direction–a candle lit and an icon of Jesus close by. He is in his black cassock. As I recount the latest story of exclusion, he listens. His face radiates gentleness and love. After I finish there is a moment of silence. And then Paul smiles at me. There is a gleam in his eye. Paul replies: “It is so hard. But what else can you do. I believe this is God’s work that you are doing. It is important work. It is the way of love.” I leave spiritual direction feeling that I am not alone. That I am loved–just as I am and just as I live. There are so many days that I need Paul Wessinger in my life. He is still with me. He will be with me all along.

This Memorial Day weekend….Who is it that loves you as you are? Who is it that confirms your call in God?