I have been ordained now nearly thirty-six years, and although I can rattle off a pretty coherent explanation of the meaning of ordination my own has never entirely lost a sense of mystery and wonder about it.
My daughter is presently in her final year of divinity school and about to present her ordination paper this week, and I think it was reading hers that got me ruminating on my own.
Being a minister of the church is a living conundrum, as Karl Barth describes it so well in his section on “the Task of Ministry”: “As ministers we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison’ (The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 186).
Where prose fails to capture this paradox poetry frequently does better. I have often turned to the poetry of my friend Arnold Kenseth, who died in 2003, especially the collection of poems he entitled “Reflections of an Unprofitable Servant.” Here’s one of my favorites:
I was anointed. A fire. Yes, I tell you.
An adazzle. His rare thump numbed me, awed
Me down to size and up to Him. Prayed, pawed
By the laying on of hands, myself anew
And aloft; I became lion to roar Him,
Eagle to lift Him, donkey to bear Him. I,
In that sunburst, languaged with seraphim,
Promised myself to be (Ha!) His emissary.
I did not, friends, manage much. True, I found
Fluency, but not roar. I have been sparrow;
And though jackass as most, I could not be least
Even for Him. He was scarlet and vast
And radiant and restful. He sang such sound
I heard the earth unloose itself from sorrow.
(Arnold Kenseth, Seasons and Sceneries, Windhover Press, 2002)