As I became more deeply impacted by liturgical and contemplative practices in my personal devotion, they began to wind their way into our campus ministry’s worship. More Sundays came to include scripted prayers, communal reading and singing of the Psalms, creeds (this time without interruption), and the like. Stuck between the latest Passion tunes, you would find a confessional prayer from the BCP or a moment of silent meditation.
Here finally, I believed, I had discovered the secret to meaningful worship! Here finally was the key to unlocking revival in the modern Church! So like any true believer, I pushed that miracle pill on my students so hard I’m surprised they didn’t call the local D.A.R.E. officer. I continued to study and practice and reframe the way I sold the prescription, adjusting the packaging and commercials, but from this season onward I never changed the contents of the drug itself; never again did I lead a time of worship that was solely based on pop-worship songs or only centered around a sermon.
The deeper I delved, the more order of the service itself slowly began to evolve: and always toward longer, more purposeful celebrations of the Eucharist. This is not the post to discuss my growing love for this preeminent act of Christian community; a love that began (as is so often with me) with history – as I recognized it as the centerpiece of historical, Orthodox Christian worship1 – but grew with personal experience and theological reflection.
But again, that post is not for today.
Today, as we see my relationship with liturgy begin to grow (what I consider an unequivocal positive in my life), another, more complicated relationship began to develop. Those who have listened to the podcast or are familiar with my story know what’s coming next.
It was in this season that I fell for one of my students.
And then pursued a relationship with her.
I’ve struggled with how to handle this part of the story for several reasons: First, I want to protect this young woman’s privacy. Second, I have several family and friends who have never been told the actual reason why we left the Campus House in Indiana, so this whole episode will be difficult for many people I love to grapple with. Third, it’s difficult from a story-telling angle. “Episode” is the wrong word for a plot line that weaved its way through several years of my life and unquestionably shaped most of the experiences I’m trying to relate from this point on; it even followed me into our new life after leaving Indiana and shaped my first year at a new ministry. And finally, the results of this experience are a mixed bag:
First and most grievously, I put my wife and young son through hell due to my lies and emotional detachment.
…and this young woman through much pain and confusion in asking her to imagine a fantasy life, hoping for things which never could be.
But I also experienced a deep, very real connection that brought me a great amount of joy (albeit of a complicated variety)…
…and her acceptance of contemplative spirituality and its application in our community’s worship pushed me ever more deeply into what became the last foothold of my fast-crumbling faith.
The web-like splinters emanating from this situation affected every area of my life for years, and to detail each would go beyond the scope of this blog. I will often reference this situation, explaining how it played into whatever was going on, so it’s important at the outset to be sure we understand what was happening in the background of my story as I slowly transitioned from one spiritual tradition to another. So while not every post from here on out will include anecdotes from this storyline, it nonetheless will be present in all these moments, adding depth and shade to the tale.
1. Literally, whether or not you were considered part of the Church, i.e. “in communion” or not, “excommunicated” was based on whether you were allowed to receive Eucharist (Communion).↩