How The Children Made Him a Priest
On Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, Matthew Sitman interviews Spencer Reece, an Episcopal priest and poet who lived for a year with little girls in a Honduran orphanage, and taught them poetry. Excerpt:
MS: So you went down there having basically just been ordained. But you describe that Honduras is where you really became a priest. What do you mean by that?
SR: I don’t think I understood what it meant. I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a Christian. I don’t think I understood what the Eucharist meant. I don’t think I really understood any of it. I could repeat it intellectually, or write something on an exam. I had studied all of it. But it was all book knowledge, it wasn’t heart knowledge. I knew I was moving in the right direction, but I really didn’t know what it meant. But when I was with them, as time went on it, I began to understand all of it.
The Eucharist is a moment of intimacy, eating together, looking at each other. Like on the Road to Emmaus. And when I put the wafers in the mouths of all those girls lined up, I think I began to understand it.
Also, they have nobody, so they belong to God. There’s just no other way to explain it.
So then that began to make sense. I as a priest – as a shepherd, as a father, all those words that are used for priests – I literally became a father-like figure, which I’d never been, because I didn’t have children. I never thought I’d be in that position. That was happening to me. I believe what George Herbert wrote, that for him, he craved simplicity. And one of the things that he liked simple was his religion and his understanding of God, and that all God was, was love. As a priest, to communicate that message is what we’re supposed to try to do. We can’t do it perfectly, but that began to come through me. You know a priest really has to be there and not be there – the ego has to die in the spiritual life, so you have to kind of use yourself and not be there at the same time, so that God’s message can come through you. It’s not “Spencer’s” message. Of course it’s going to be some of my message, because it’s me, but you hope that there’ll be little sparks that are God’s that are coming through you. That seemed really important there with those girls.
It just all made sense to me, being with them. And the girls were literally resurrections. That word made sense to me. Little Sandy, who would get her wafer in her mouth every Sunday, was six – although she looked like she was three, because they found her on the sidewalk, all of her teeth had fallen out, her stomach was bloated, and she couldn’t talk. She came to the orphanage and they fed her, and her teeth came in, thank God, and her stomach went down, and there she is in front of me.
Read the whole thing. Lots to think about there.
Can I just say that I would continue to pay for The Dish (I’m a subscriber) without Andrew? Nothing against him, but most the things that he was most passionate about on the blog — gay culture, pot, porn — are not things that interest me. My favorite part of the Dish was the curation — the things he and his staff found elsewhere, or, as in the case of this interview, generated on their own. I will miss the curatorial sensibilities of Andrew’s staff, and would happily continue to pay to sustain them.