The Rev. Keely Franke
August 1, 2010
Well, it happened. After many years of toiling after this one event, Thursday night, God willing and the people consenting, Bishop Prior ordained me to the priesthood! It was a glorious event, and not too long. Many of you were there and I was so glad to see you. My parents and brother came up, as well as my best friend from seminary in Austin, TX. It was great to have them here with me, too.
I have to tell you a funny story, though. A couple weeks before the ordination my brother went over to our parents’ house one evening. He sat down with my mom and said, “So, now that Keely is getting close to becoming a priest, has she changed?” My mom laughed and said she didn’t think so but wondered what he meant by “changed.” We think he wanted to know if I was now suddenly starting to become one of “those” ministers concerned with saving souls.
To become a minister in the south often means that your sole concern now is saving souls from the fires of eternal damnation. It’s something that at least in my close family makes us cringe. It’s also through this lens that I often read and react to scripture. I looked at the scripture for today around the same time my brother was asking this question and I cringed. All of the readings in some form or
fashion make it sound like nothing on earth is worthy of anything and only the higher things of heaven, where the Christians get to go, are.
Take Ecclesiastes for example. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” it starts out. It sounds like something from Shakespeare, so dramatic. Or at least brings to mind King Henry the Eighth in the television series “the Tudors.” (You can see how I spent part of my summer). However since I knew that this “vanity” in Ecclesiastes had to be about more than the lowliness of earth and the holiness of heaven. That it had to be about more than one of Shakespeare’s characters complaining of their plight, or 15th century England and all of its pretentiousness. And because it is a short book in the Bible, I decided to read it.
Ecclesiastes is known mostly for the verses, for everything there is a season and a time. But the rest of it is really quite wise as well. It is one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament after all. The author of Ecclesiastes or the “Teacher” is supposed to remind us of King Solomon. I imagine it was written at the beginning of King’s Solomon’s reign when he was taking account of his kingdom, of his own life and work, and wondering what the purpose of this life is anyway.
The conclusion he reaches in today’s text is: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” All the hard hours of working, toiling, and laboring that a person puts into a lifetime, only to pass on this hard work to another, whose life will end as quickly as his own, is pointless. All is vanity. Or is it?
Beginnings often lead one to think about the end – what will be accomplished or left over by the time one reaches the end. Today we’re at the beginning of our time together with me starting as one of your priests. My time with you will come to an end. Maybe in a year, maybe more, but to an end it will eventually come. And so I too am led to question – what then is really important, what is the purpose of our life together anyway?
To answer my brother’s question, this whole seminary process has changed me quite a bit. However some things remain the same. I want to read to you something that I have found to be most true and held most dear for a long time. It’s called “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. If you ask me, this is what is truly important for our life together and is today my invitation to you at the beginning of our time together.
The Invitation by Oriah
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us
to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty
every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure yours and mine and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon,“Yes.”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire
with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
You at St. John’s have been working away this summer to make our spaces more beautiful and welcoming. One of them is my office. I invite you to come, once my office is finished, and sit with me there. I will actually be a little interested in what you do or once did or want to do for a living. But mostly not. Mostly I want to know what it is you ache for and what you ache from. I want to know what keeps you up in the middle of the night. “Even at night their minds do not rest,” says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes today. So I want to know why not.
What do you long to do with your life and who do you long to be? These are the questions I want to ask you.
Seminary has not given me any more answers, and in fact has left me with a lot more questions than anything else. It has also not made me a saver of souls, but it has made me a saver of lives. Honestly, I don’t worry too much about what happens after this life. For one, no one really knows what will happen. And, two, I do believe God is a God of love and therefore whatever happens it will be good, for all. But I do care about this life. I care about your life and my life. That we live it well and full, joyfully and true to ourselves and our God.
Ecclesiastes actually does not end with “This too is vanity.” The next verse, which was left out in our reading today says this, “There is nothing better for mortals to do than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.”
So, when thinking about my time together with you here at the beginning, I won’t work endless hours toiling away. I will go home often and enjoy my life. But the hours I am here with you I will love you to pieces. And I will strive to live most fully and most honestly with you, and I am certain we will find much enjoyment in our time together. We proved that is possible at the picnic Friday night after all.
Life is short. There is a saying that “the man who dies with the most toys wins.” There is also a saying that “the man who dies with the most toys still dies.” When we are gone from this place the assortment of things we’ve collected and the hours we spent at the office just simply won’t mean a thing. To anyone. The only thing that will matter is if we’ve lived well together and if we loved each other well. Or in Oriah’s words, if we’ve stood in the fire and not shrunk back, if we’ve fed the children after a night full of grief, and if we’ve danced with wildness and let the ecstasy in. All is not vanity then, “For this too, I saw, is from the hand of God.” Amen.
“The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer