People ask me a lot why I want to be a priest. My hairdresser. The nurse sticking the needle in my arm. The RAC recovery driver fixing my bike. The friend of a friend who met me over the dorritos and dip and stares at me like I'm some sort of alien being because she thought her friends were normal people and here is somebody clearly from the Strange:Avoid category.
Partly it's because I'm young and I'm female and I drive a motorcycle and I play the drums and I hang out in gay bars and people can't quite put that together in their heads with 'priest'. 'Priest' mostly means Father Ted, Dawn French or old, decrepit, potentially-a-paedophile.
And I pretty much suck at answering why, if I'm honest. I laugh a little self-consciously and say how it's weird isn't it and rush to reassure them that I used to be a normal person, honestly, before I started this whole priest thing - I used to play guitar and go to gigs for a living, and I was cool and normal, really I was. And then we get into a conversation about how churches are all right, good for a wedding, but cold and full of old people and, well, if you're honest, mind-numbingly boring. And I can't seem to get the words together to explain that it's got nothing to do with petting pensioners and school fetes and jumble sales and pottering about raising money for the roof, and everything to do with laying down your life for the bleeding and bruised, breathing life into the dry dust of the depressed and hopeless, reaching out and touching skin to skin with the shivering lonely, and stepping into the awful liminal space of death when the grieved are staring, shocked, wordless, into the echoing emptiness. It's screwing up your courage and fighting for the freedom of the poor and the oppressed, shouting for the voiceless til your lungs are hoarse.
But it's quite hard to say that with your hairdresser snipping round your ears and falling over her words trying not to offend your weird lifestyle choice.
I have a new option. In future, I'm just going to refer everyone to this poem by Andrea Gibson:
'This is for those...
Who know we can sound the music in the people around us
Simply by playing our own strings
For the ones who sing life into broken wings
Open their chests and offer their breath...
For the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else
For the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies
And lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky...
This is for the man who showed me
The hardest thing about having nothing
Is having nothing to give
Who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away...
This is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built
And...right now are beginning songs that sound something like
People turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home...
This is for saying - yes.'