Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ordination

Singing "Here I am, Lord"
I wish I could put words to the experience of my ordination, but I cannot do so adequately. I shall work at making an inadequate explanation of all that happened during the week of retreat and ordination, and I hope you will forgive how mundane it may sound. The magic, the raw power, the humility, and the deep sense of abiding service to the Divine was overwhelming and beautiful.

The week started with a long bus ride at an ungodly hour of day (I left my house at 3am!), and which ended in New York City at 9am. It was a beautiful day, I had my suitcase (on rollers), my backpack (with computer and toiletries) and my purse, along with my cane in hand. I walked about 16 blocks to meet with Suren, one of my classmates, at his hotel. We had breakfast, then headed up to meet with another of our classmates, Farida. The three of us shared a hired car up to the retreat center in Stony Point, NY.

Once I got into my room, I put my things away and got settled. We were almost immediately called to start our oral exams, which thankful were largely group oriented. Again, I can't really explain how those exams made me feel. I wasn't nervous, per se, but it was very intense. We did some large group work, then went into smaller groups. We worked hard, and still answered only a handful of questions because of the group dynamics which provided us with a wide variety of responses.

The food was marvelous. The staff was friendly and helpful. The rooms were quiet, clean, and the beds comfortable. The three days I spent there were wonderful, filled with funny stories, moments of great sorrow, and a lot of tears. We culminated in a ritual that provided a true "birthing experience" for each of us. The details, of course, are private, but the results are obvious in each of my fellow students.

My blessing, by Rabbi Roger
When we all reassembled at Riverside Church in Manhattan, we were ready. There was a great flurry of students donning robes and stoles for the first time. My own robe is white, with incredibly beautiful lace at wrists and hem, a priceless gift of love and joy from Pastor Alison, my mentor and friend. The stole is green and blue and teal, looking a lot like a stained window, with three intertwined rings at the bottom. Putting the whole ensemble on was energizing. I didn't notice the heat, the noise, or the flurries of activity going on around me. I entered my own little sacred space, and it was wonderful.

The service was incredible, as always. Walking down that long, marble aisle was a bit nerve wracking, I admit. I was worried about my ankle, worried I'd drip wax on my new robe, worried I'd trip or sneeze, or do something else that was a faux pas. Luckily nothing horrible happened, and I made it to my seat with no drama whatsoever. Our class looked marvelous!

We opened the service with an interfaith rendition of "Here I am, Lord" which rocked the house. I was lucky enough to be out front, as we had two small groups doing two of the verses. I was also standing next to my friend Sarah, who belted out her solo to fill the entire cathedral with angelic song. Even thinking about it makes my arms get goosebumps! And then, the moment of ordination arrived, and we all stood up there at the front, facing our friends and family, cameras, and our Deans and instructors.

Laying on of hands by Father Giles
First, Rev. Festa anointed each of us with oil. Then Rabbi Roger came and took our hands, blessed us, and spoke out our name loudly, so all could hear. "I present to you Reverend Michelle Allyson Szabo!" I was fighting back the tears. Dean Deb added her blessings and those of the Mother Goddess to Rabbi Roger's. Father Giles was next and laid on hands in a moment of streaming, palpable power. I was left shaking. I know someone else came after that but I cannot remember for the life of me. I'm sure when I see the video it will help. For our class of 35, the whole process took about a half hour, I think, although I had no way of measuring the time. I clung to my staff during the entire procedure and just let the entire experience flow over me, sweeping me into my new state as minister.

Rev. Annie and me
After it was all over and we were down in the Undercroft eating sandwiches, there was controlled chaos. There were photographs, hugs and flowers, children clamoring for blessings and attention, food and drink, and noise! Rev. Annie, who was not my dean the first year but who has become a friend and confidante over my two years of seminary, posed for a photo with me. I was beaming like a crazy woman through the entire ordination. I don't think I stopped until I was in the car on the way home, and even then it was only brief pauses in the smiles.

Our life isn't perfect. We're still looking for a house, trying to get enough money in the bank to support everything, and trying to keep the five of us together in happiness as much as possible. Perfection is never attainable, though. We're good enough, and getting better. Isn't that what counts?
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