I am of an age where there was life before and life after. I am not speaking of the children that enhance my existence, or indeed of the noble vehicle of their delivery (known around here as Mrs Acular). I am, of course, speaking of ordination and all things priestly.
I arrived at the point of Holy Orders in my mid-thirties, so had had some time to formulate some views on life before that momentous day. However, being a priest grants me some fairly unique experiences (among them seeing underneath a high altar, but an event to which I do not refer), and as such have changed my perception of the world in some specific ways.
1. Human existence: I have now done so many funerals (I have exceeded thirty this year already) that I have a fundamentally altered view of the whole human existence thing. I spend so many hours and days summarising people's whole lives in mere breaths that I realise how briefly we exist and how fragile we are. No sooner do we arrive than we check-out. If I were an atheist (or worse still, by far, a Humanist) I would be quite clear that if this were actually it, that morality could sod right off - that I am going to do the best I can for me and my clan. That we are here so briefly convinces me that there has to be more. God has to exist or else this vast intelligence and eloquence we develop in our brief planetary stop would seem an awfully high achievement just to nourish invertebrates. There has to be a higher greater wider purpose to us, or else what a waste of time talent education and opportunity. Psalm 139 is now a very close friend of mine.
2. Cynicism - on good days and bad, on grey days and bright - I have to be the paradigm of positivism. I have to be the happy chappy of the parish, the smiling geezer in the black dress, all fired up and ready to go. I have to model the hope I preach, walk in the grace I am bestowed with and always - always - have that deportment of man with wind in his sails and a Single Malt in his veins. The thing is, there are times (not many) when I am in church in a black mood. There are times when I am taking a proverbial kicking over some triviality when instead of the beneficent smile you see, I am harbouring notions about prolonged death-doing. Simply put, I am not always in a good mood, dammit. This comes at a price, this Vicar Front thing - it makes me more and more cynical in every season. It would explain why gatherings of priests are either grinning inanely or catty - either one or the other. You ask Mrs Acular, she'll tell you. Of an evening I flake out on my settee and basically slag the telly off for hours at a time. And it gets worse over time.
3. Children - partly as a result of the fruits of my wife's loins, but also in no small part to the work I do, I am bowled over by the innate theology and abilities of even the smallest children. I am increasing of the the view that we are born with all that we need for life save for some of the logistical abilities, and that we spend the years of our lives disarming ourselves of those things we were once gifted to do. This week's question from one of the Twins Aculae is "daddy, who made God". Give me a theologian who can answer that meaningfully, and let them explain to my five year old. I am guessing that already my daughter will articulate an answer better than I can. Open-mindedness, warm heartedness, lack of coy-ness, directness, clarity of thought-ness: kids have all of these things. I am now of a view that if you are going to expound something or issue a platitude on something else, you should do so in front of a child of three-to-five and see what the response is. I am willing to bet you would not utter any more and that by default, the pages of Facebook would be empty.
4. I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses: Early posts on this blog betrayed an inner-panic about my relatively new ordained status. I didn't feel worthy (and I still don't) but I have now learned to live with it. I know how preposterous I am, so I care little that anyone else does too. Actually, I would go further. I believe I was born to do this. I love the life I lead and feel finally like I have arrived where I was destined to arrive. If you don't like me, that is not my problem. If you disagree with me, tell me. If I repel you, then go away. I am finally at peace with myself and I rather like it.
5. I am ready to own a dog. If I can cope with twins, a dog ought to be a cinch!
(If you are going to a Belt of Green, have a great time. I can't be there this year so will pray for you all and the quagmire that will unfold beneath your tents this weekend)