The Clothing of a Novice | Thanksgiving Day | By The Rev. Scott Lee
Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Psalm 65 | 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 | Luke 17:11-19
“On the spiritual journey there are many resting places.” There are many resting places
but there are no stopping places.” Today is one of those resting places in Maddy’s spiritual journey and in our journey as a community. Today we pause the daily routine to effect a change, a change of name and of outward vesture indicating a much deeper and more complex change within – within Madeleine Parks – and, entirely likely, touching a deep place within each of us as well. While today is uniquely Maddy’s, it is not uniquely unique! What is true for her, is true for each of us. This morning’s events are a brief resting place, a milestone in her life, in our life. So stop. Rest. And enjoy this milestone day.
But to call this day a milestone is to use a metaphor worth exploring. Milestones are
markers along the way. Milestones mark how far we have traveled and where we are on the journey. Only you, Maddy, know fully what has brought you here – as much as one can fully know anything about the deep, interior working of the Spirit of God. That inner journey, that becoming who you are today, is a profound mystery and a gift of God. Part of the task of life is to explore continually the geography of that inner terrain, the foundations on which one’s life is built, the inner movements and changes going on deep down inside: those milestones and that what is the path within. That inner exploration is the life-task of each of us, no less for us than for Maddy.
Local spiritual leader Tom Ward taught me to refer to “(1) the journey inward, (2) the
journey outward, and (3) the journey together. All three of those metaphoric journeys converge here today. As you enter a new status within the community you must inevitably have looked and still be looking deep within yourself discerning your vocation to this community. That is the journey inward.
In the days to come you will offer, you will continue to offer, to the world the service that God sees fit to empower you to do – as you find strength and inspiration to do it, whether it be it humble or grand. That service in and to the world is the journey outward, and today it has a new beginning, a jump start of sorts.
And you embrace those two journeys in the context of these goodly people, our good
sisters and friends gathered here, and all those sharing the life of this community in the wider world beyond this mountaintop location. You engage in that inner journey and you embrace that call to service within The Community of St. Mary. That is our journey together.
The journey inward, the journey outward, and the journey together. They each have God’s blessing and the promise of God’s presence along the way.
While we rest here today, you will receive a new name. You have chosen the name
Felicity – a most felicitous choice. Felicity, from the “felix, felicis,” Noun. Latin. Third
Declension, meaning happiness.
Sister Felicity, Sister Happiness. Sister Happiness, not Sister Glibness, not Sister Frolicsome, not Sister Cheeriness.
True happiness, true felicity is not lightheartedly romping through rainbows with
unicorns. Happiness is serious business. C. S. Lewis says that one cannot be truly happy – and know that one is happy at the same time.
His point is profound, and I think it is true. If we are truly happy; if our being is suffused with truly great and holy joy, we cannot at the same time be spectator to ourselves, thinking to ourselves “Look, look, look at that me. I am truly happy.” In true happiness, in true felicity, no such inner division can exist. It is impossible to live one’s life fully joyful in the moment and be observer and critic of that life at the same time. I do not mean that there is not the joy of delighting in the happily-ever-after ending of a Hallmark movie; or knowing the joyful satisfaction of a quiche well-made, a casserole cooked to perfection; or the pleasure one feels going to bed grateful for the day that is past. Such happiness-es are real; but they are to one degree or another self-conscious, or we could not be aware of them in the moment.
What Lewis and I mean to say is that there is within us a place of unity of self, a holy oneness at the heart of our being. A place where, in fact we and God are one. A place within, where we “will know fully, even as [we] have been fully known” to God.1 To know such a place, to have such a unitive moment means that self has slipped away, receded into the background, and all that there is for our conscious and unconscious self is the happy existence of unSELFconsciousness. This is what Jesus means when he says, “. . . those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”2 It is what he means when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”3 This is the death to the flesh of which St. Paul speaks. It is this and not some moralistic rejection of our proper appetites as human beings. It is not self-abnegation, the obliteration of one’s self, but the letting go of the self-made, self-preoccupied self, so that the true self, which is the image of God, can become for us “all in all.”
Wordsworth said, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its
origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”4 Happiness is something like the poem is not the moment of powerful feeling; that overflowing is a moment unto itself, all consuming and ecstatic. It is the later task to reflect on that moment of unconscious emotion and to begin to make spiritual sense of it to the degree one ever can. To know such a moment or even more of self-abandon, such losing of one’s self, is to find one’s self and be truly happy. The Book of Common Prayer speaks of this sublime felicity in the collect which says, “among the swift and varied changes of the world, [may] our hearts . . . surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.”5 That is the Collect for The Fifth Sunday in Lent, and I would invite you to consider making that collect and its profound grasp of true happiness a cornerstone of your interior life, a little pocket map for the journey inward, and, inevitably, consequently for the journey outward
and the journey together.
The philosopher Boethius wrote of these things, saying, “[O God,] To see thee is the end
and the beginning, thou carriest us, and thou dost go before, thou art the journey, and the journey’s end.”6
And so we journey on, past today’s milestone rest, seeking the joy, the felicity which is our birthright, and of which you and your name may be a living reminder.
1- 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)
2- Matthew 16:25 (NRSV)
3- Luke 9:23 (NRSV)
4- Lyrical Ballads
5- The Book of Common Prayer, 219
6- Various sources, Boethius (c. 480-525)