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Day 99: A Nod to T.S. Eliot

Loving the experience of recognition, I’m also fascinated when I meet myself anew, seemingly “again for the first time.” Yesterday, I learned I can no longer accord external authority to ancient texts as I have been long trained to do.

Friday was the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, as well as the first day of a three-day online retreat in her memory, her teachings. A new friend, Ginger, connected the dots for me. I signed up for the free online retreat, and have dipped in each day, with pleasure. I felt deeply moved by a liturgical-form prayer of intercession on the first day, before a ritual foot-washing. Not insignificantly, I finished The Book of Love, Magdalen series, before the 2 p.m. second retreat segment: a Quaker study method of a portion of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The “writing in community” method was uncannily familiar, appreciated. The small group I was in was delightful, with good responsiveness to the text. AND I encountered myself here anew...

I can no longer accord external authority to ancient scriptures. It's not even a matter of canonicity, as many might presume. I can no longer trust…sit easily in…a circle of human beings engaged in purely textual study.

This gets interesting when brought alongside my clerical ordination in the PCUSA (which claims no clericalism). Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to you? ordainands are asked, answering I do.

I parse this, of course. I stand with integrity—wholeness—within the ordination question, as long as it is partial and open-ended: the sacred story always larger than and beyond the Book, in other words. The Book holds an anchor in a chaotic world; I bow to its sacredness, its holy use amongst generations of elders, ancestors. Pragmatically, I can see, even honor, how the Book holds institutions together with a common creed, established practices with criteria of discernment and distinction, except when those practices create more separation than communion. Which today, they do.

Regardless, I’m established to such a degree now that I can “belong” in this community without feeling accord with everything it holds true. I’ve been a Presbyterian clergywoman for twenty years, pushing into discernments to relinquish orders, always landing on the side of inaction in that direction. It beckons some toward me with curiosity, others with caution. Spirit seems to continue to speak through its associations, so I let it sit as is.

Perhaps it’s the near idolatrous use, like the Book is what matters, with human focus on the words that I can no longer accord external authority.

Said like the recovering and impatient academic that I am.

When each of us can know we belong to one another, that we are one another, regardless of our sacred scriptures? The Word will have spoken. Anything else seems a detrimental distraction…an intellectual fancying creating more and more separation.

No more excusing it.

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