When I am old, I shall wear midnight.

I recently marked the anniversary of three years of priestly ministry. Thanks to a colleague preaching this Sunday, I’m taking my usual Tuesday-morning sermonating time to reflect a little on ordained ministry. I carefully brought all my journals with me, the lovingly-handmade-by-Tilt notebooks that I filled with doubt, joy, perplexity and hope while going through the discernment process and, more intermittently, in the years since. Then I left them somewhere – at home on the cabinet in the dining room, I think. Ah, well – I can muse without props.

Here is one musing: noticing what I’m wearing today. I’ve been working hard on my wardrobe, the last few months. I started exercising with some regularity – nothing dramatic, and I’m not looking for dramatic change, but it’s changed my sense of myself. I have some confidence that I’ll stay the size I am or possibly a little smaller, so I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things that were really a little bit too big and thus looked baggy and dumpy on me, and I’m gradually replacing them with things that fit well and look, I think, pretty good. I’ve also gotten more and more confident about being able to shape my own style. I remember vividly a session in the changing room of a consignment clothing store in the town where I attended a preaching conference, in the months between graduating from seminary and beginning my first job. They had several suits in approximately my size, and I was utterly convinced that I Needed Suits. I ended up buying two suits that day – both fit me tolerably well, & though expensive, they were cheaper than new. I even paid to have them altered – the sleeves were too long.

I think I probably wore those suits three or four times, combined. The one basic dark grey suit I already owned (and preferred) turned out to be enough for the rare occasions when I really felt the need to suit up. Gradually I realized that The Boss (remember The Boss?) wore black pants, a clergy shirt, and a black jacket every day because that was really easy to wear, not because the clerical life demanded that level of formality. And perhaps that look fit his personal style. I met other clergy, male and female, who wore their role (literally and figuratively) in other ways. One of the canons in that diocese (a straight man!) wore beautiful sweaters and slacks with his collar, and had the most remarkable sock wardrobe of any man I’ve ever met. His socks had stars on them, the first time I met with him. I remember thinking, “I think I’m going to like it here.”

Both those summer-after-seminary suits are gone now. They fit OK, but one was an awful taupe, and the black one had a thin white pinstripe and very pointy shoulders. Good riddance. Today I am wearing a homemade collar shirt (an altered black turtleneck from Target – I wear these all winter – comfortable & not bulky as a base layer); a drapey black cardigan thing made of a light knit with a burnout leafy pattern (my mum bought it for me at a wonderful clothing store in their city); a crinkly rust velvet scarf I got on clearance at an art museum gift shop; a short skirt in stretch velour; black leggings; and my black Ariat cowboy boots. And big dangly earrings that match the scarf. Possibly my mother would regard this outfit as having a bit of the Reverend Mrs. Skanky vibe to it. But I am comfortable and happy. I like how I look and I feel like I’m a better evangelist when I’m out and about and dressed with a little flair and spirit. (I wouldn’t wear the short skirt or the cowboy boots to a hospice visit or anything of the sort, for the record.)

I’ve spoken here before about Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men series  and his young witch, Tiffany Aching. In the latest book, an older witch comments that Tiffany isn’t wearing all black. Tiffany says, “When I am old, I shall wear midnight.” Maybe the classic simplicity and dignity of a well-tailored suit will become my uniform when I’m a few decades further along on this journey. I appreciate a good suit, and wear it well. But not now. I suited up for Annual Meeting, but not for everyday. (BTW, my current *best* suit, a beautiful black skirt suit with some delightful vintage-style details, was found in a department store in Chicago, where we had some time to kill following a truly horrible visit to a parish that was considering me as a candidate for rector. I removed myself from their process, but hey! Nice suit!)

I hope the clothes are about more than just the clothes. I hope they stand for how I wear this role on the inside, at the three-year mark – with more confidence, more comfort, more faith that what fits me well and delights me will appeal to others. More faith that God called me into this for myself, as myself, and not to hide myself in the armor of an ill-fitting suit.

Another musing. I have been thinking often, lately, of Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 3. Solomon has recently become King of Israel, after the death of his father David. In a dream, God comes to him and says, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon says,

“O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

My job isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always fun. Beginning my second year as rector of a parish which I love very much, I expect some rocky terrain ahead. Change needs to happen – change is happening – and change has costs. Anger, hurt, grief, as well as optimism, new energy, hope. A brief cry to God for the gift of wisdom has passed through my mind many times in recent weeks. So when I thought about finding a Bible text to spend some time with this morning, this one came to mind immediately.

Reading this text in some seminary class, I remember wondering whether Solomon was brown nosing – asking for something he knew God would like to hear. (God goes on to give Solomon riches and long life, too, even though he didn’t ask for them, because he’s such a Nice Boy.) Right now, though, reading the text and identifying with Solomon, I think he means it. Long life and wealth are nice, but – being King! All of a sudden! Realizing all the responsibility and challenges of that role! How do I do this? How can I possibly be what people need me and want me to be? It makes perfect sense to me that wisdom tops Solomon’s wish list. Help me find my way, God – I don’t even know how to go in or out on my own.

Here is a prayer for myself (and anyone else who wants it), based on Solomon’s words. A touchstone for the year ahead.

Lord my God, you have called me to this ministry, though at times I feel like a child, who does not know how to go out or come in. And you have placed me in the midst of this family of faith, a people you have called and chosen. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil,  to lead and tend your people and be the priest you need me to be.

Cheesy. I’m sorry. But it’s the prayer I need right now. Thanks for bearing with me. Now go read more about clothes somewhere.

One Response to “When I am old, I shall wear midnight.”

  1. Baba Yaga Says:

    I’m not bringing up the Rev’d Mrs. Skanky unless tulle or gold lame is involved.

Leave a Reply