Friday, 30 November 2007

Slow Emotion Replay

The past few days have been defined by some serious sleep deprivation courtesy of Miss Twenty-Months-old-and-getting-four-big-teeth-all-at-once. Consequently voices sound as if they’re coming from the other end of a long tunnel, and the atmosphere feels like it’s been replaced with some kind of thick fluid manufactured by the DuPont Corporation.

This week I’ve also happened to drive past a few of the old nursing homes in which I once used to celebrate Communion. They’re nasty places, reeking of urine and stale savoury mince served in a cruel parody of what you and I call dinner. Where you end up parked if you’re poor - or even just not quite middle class - and have the misfortune to outlive your body and/or mind.

Visiting these people was my favourite part of parish ministry; when the Eucharistic Sacraments became most real. Men and women would dribble, grab hold of me and spit in my ear, then laugh while cursing uproariously. Claws gripped in equal portions by dementia and arthritis grasping at my surplice for another drink. Or genteel ladies and long-retired freemasons apologising profusely for the behaviour their of fellow patient-prisoners: betrayed by age, and weeping for the desolated temple which was once their body, these were the ones cursed with a crystal-clear mind. The harshest affliction of all.

It is expressly forbidden in Sydney to reserve any element of the Sacraments; any consecrated remnants must be consumed by the Priest in the presence of the congregation. The chalice would be coated with a greasy film, and my reason would silently scream everyrything I’d ever learned about hygiene when faced with the breadcrumb-flecked soup that remained. And I’d drain the chalice with pride, for God had called me to be a Priest, and this was the least I could do for these Children of God in their agonisingly slow transition between this world and That-Which-Is-To-Come.

If you've been kind enough to read elsewhere on this blog you'll know it wasn't the bacteria that ended all this. No point going over it all again here, but I’d love to go back to those nursing homes. Nowadays there’s no longer any Priest visiting them; the demented and defecating don’t constitute a strategic use of ministry resources. Mercifully the people I knew will have died long ago, but such is the world that there’ll be others like them filling the same stained mattresses. The white metal bed-frames won’t have changed.

Last year I asked for permission to once again conduct services in these places, but the Diocesan offices didn’t reply to my letters ...

Since I’m not interested in being on the receiving end of legal action from the multi-millionaire who owns most Australian nursing homes, I’m not going to show a photograph of any of the places I’ve just written about. Instead here’s a video from the Matt Johnson’s The The. It’s a song called Slow Emotion Replay, and it sums up a lot of what I’m feeling right now. Watch out for the wonderful Annie Sprinkle among the cast of glorious eccentrics.

And because I know my taste in music isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I quite understand that, here’s the words. They say it almost as well.

The more I see
The less I know
About all the things I thought
were wrong or right,
And carved in stone.
So, don't ask me about
War, religion or God
Love, sex or death
Because ...

Everybody knows what's going wrong with the world
But I don't even know what's going on in myself.

You've gotta work out your own salvation
With no explanation: to this Earth we fall,
On hands and knees we crawl.
And we look up to the stars,
And we reach out and pray
To a deaf, dumb and blind God who never explains.

Everybody knows what's going wrong with the world
I don't even know what's going on in myself.

Lord I've been here for so long
I can feel it coming down on me;
I'm just a slow emotion replay
Of somebody I used to be.

Ok, maybe it's not as bad as all that. But if anybody out there knows a Bishop who'd let a ne'er-do-well Priest do something vaguely vocational out on the edges somewhere please don't be shy about dropping me a line. Because I miss being useful, and not just because I'm feeling so tired. Thanks.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

I guess I thought you were still functioning as a priest, but in a different diocese. Did I misunderstand?

It is a tragedy all the way around. For you and for those nursing home residents. What would happen if you just went in there and offered to conduct a service? How could the diocese stop you? Particularly given that they can't be bothered to offer the service themselves?

Alcibiades said...

Sorry if this all sounds a little bleak - after a good night's sleep things don't seem anywhere near as glum ;-)

I'm still ordained: I wasn't defrocked, but I don't have a license to officiate. It's a strange kind of set up, and is the way diocese's can pay lip-service to a person's ordination, without being under any obligation to recognise the validity of that process.

The problem for those of us living in Sydney is that the diocese covers such a huge area: Sydney itself is a large sprawling place (think L.A. rather than Manhattan), and the diocese is even larger. I live very close to the city centre: to leave the diocesan boundaries I'd have to drive (on freeways - so I'd be moving fast) about 2hrs north, 3 hrs west, 3 1/2hrs south or south-west. Basically if you live in Sydney and are an Anglican you're limited to one diocese.

Which begs the question - why not move? Exactly - and while leaving a place that's home is hard, it's getting about that time.

The question about doing things on my own is a good one, and the answer is that episcopal heirarchies matter to Anglicans of a more traditionalist bend: we see whatever we do as taking place within a wider framework of the church. This is probably our biggest difference to more Protestant denominations, who define context the basis of their immediate congregation.

This is why arguments about dioceses and parishes leaving cause so much pain to those of a more Catholic persuasion - the loss and disunity diminishes us all. This is something that Akinola, Iker, and in the case of Sydney, the Matthians, don't understand about Anglicanism: our Sacraments find meaning in their context of our relationship with each other.

None of which is a reason for my not simply visiting the people in these nursing homes, and just spending time with them. Which is what I'll start doing this week. Thanks for the gentle nudge into action!

John Bassett said...

I felt a personal pang as I read your post today. My mother may have to go into a nursing home soon. She lives in Maine and I live in California, so it is not possible to see her that often. Even though my siblings and I will try to find the nicest place possible, it still represents such a profound loss of independence and dignity.

I would certainly be comforted knowing that the my mother had someone as compassionate as you coming by for a visit and to share some tea. The celebration of the Eucharist is a wonderful thing, but at times I think it can distract us from the essence of ministry. We can be so focused on our ideas of the Real Presence of Christ that we sometimes forget that Christ is really most present in acts of kindness and compassion. Sometimes we ARE the sacrament.

Brian R said...

Thankfully my sister and I were able to keep Mum at home until the end. She was one of those you described as having a crystal clear mind but a very frail earthly temple and it was sad on the few occasions she needed to be in hospital with those whose mind had departed. In the last week of her life, a priest was able to visit and give her communion for which I am grateful but even more wonderful was the visit of a deacon who had been important to Mum in her last parish before she became too dependent on oxygen to attend. Being Sydney, this lady could not administer the sacrament but was able to pray and anoint Mum with holy oil brought from Jerusalem. I will always remember Mum's smile and saying "That was lovely". I will never ever understand those who deny ordination to women.