Because we’ve got to get over the big divide between lay and clergy. Whether we still have men and women “of the cloth” up on a pedestal as being more than mere humans or whether they’ve sunk in cynical experience to be less, the truth is they are just us: no more or less, better or worse. People filling a role, rising to a call, falling to a temptation…they are us and we are them. And the need/desire to see clergy as other is at best a failure of our own ability to relate directly with God, or at worst an abdication of the privilege to live our own spiritual journey.
In the thick of Catholic elementary school, staring up at towering black robes from a vantage of about four feet, gray aliens couldn’t have been more other to me than those nuns flying winged headgear or their priests riding far-off altars. But in high school, I learned that black robes could also contain young monks, some only five years older than we were–monks who could actually be friends or big brothers at least. And after twelve years of Catholic education, I entered their monastery–and from inside out, learned that monks could get old and tired, cough up blood in the cafeteria, lose their way, grow the eyes of an alcoholic…and also care more about me and my life than I did myself.
Realizing I had no vocation for religious life, I left monastery and Catholicism on the same day and didn’t look back for almost fifteen years until my world fell completely apart. In that crisis, with no direction in sight, I thrashed about for something relevant and meaningful: Eastern philosophy and mysticism, theosophy, occult metaphysics, Church of Religious Science, Mormonism, and eventually non-denominational Evangelical Christianity, which felt something like coming home–in a through-the-looking-glass kind of way–being as far from Catholicism and still Christian as geography allows.
But I wasn’t home, and as the old absurdities and irrelevancies asserted themselves in new and virulent ways, I knew I needed to make sense of it all, to make common sense of it all. If this church was the sum of Christianity and Christ, then I was still on the hunt. But for the first time, I made a different choice: I didn’t run. I dug in. It wasn’t brave or noble, I was just too tired and fearful to go out there again. It was a beginning–the beginning of an experience of the presence of God that began to teach me beyond words, theology, or religion, something about the nature of a love that had remained merely theoretical all those years.
This is our journey. No one can make it for us. It’s our spiritual life. No one can tell us what it is or how it works. Others can express their experiences along the way–and with enough similar expressions together in one place, you’ve got a religion–but expressions of experience are never a substitute for experience of our own. Only with our own experience in hand will the expressions of others, of religion, have true relevance and meaning, allowing us to add our own expression to the mix.
There is no lay and clergy. We are all clergy, all men and women of the cloth when we pick up our suitcases and get some miles on. And we’re all lay when we don’t.