Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The vow of celibacy

jesus-celibacy-celibate-fire
Twelve years ago, someone very dear made a vow to God.

Swept up, was he, by a rare discovery. Glimpsed, had he, an unrivalled beauty.

Gave, did he, his life that day.

The discovery was that of the kingdom of heaven being lived out tangibly on earth. The vow was that of lifelong celibacy.

The person was me.

Don't get me wrong, I'd already given my life to Jesus a couple of years before, after great deliberation having chosen to follow Him, pledging my life sitting at the end of my bed clutching that Luke's Gospel.

And don't get me wrong, I'd been baptised (completed my 'baptismal vows', some would say), coming up out of the water with a leap in my step and a tingle down my spine and a determination to give my best for Him. Don't get me wrong, but this vow was a little different.

It meant vowing to always be true; it meant turning away from a married life, with children, and all the security, joy and fulfilment found therein, instead finding these in Jesus and my friends. It meant a commitment to purity in body and spirit; it meant extreme focus on the things of God; it meant being on fire, burning inside with passionate love, denying myself in order to build His church more effectively for the rest of my life. It meant being close to God, humbly allowing Him and His people to teach and train me; it meant being a father in the church.

It meant being totally sold out, living for the cause of Jesus; eating, breathing, sleeping the vision He had placed in my heart to see His kingdom built on the Earth.

It meant everything.

Don't get me wrong, when I made the vow it wasn't a deeply religious affair, it was pretty down-to-earth, for which I'm grateful. Nor was it anything like a marriage ceremony: there were no expensive flowers or posh suits or relaxing honeymoons or anything of the sort. For which I'm even more grateful. (Don't get me wrong, nothing against weddings - I've been to some bloomin' good ones in my time. But not thus are celibates made.)

   "What happens if you fall in love with someone in a few years and don't want to carry on with celibacy?" asked a friend of mine as he called me to the front of our Sunday morning church event.
   "Well, I'll just have to work it through and make sure I carry on in what I've committed myself to," I replied.
   "Go on then, you know the words."
   "Okay. Before God and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I do so make covenant as a celibate."
APPLAUSE FROM THE CONGREGATION. FOLLOWED BY PRAYERS AND ENCOURAGING WORDS SPOKEN.

Here's a copy of the celibate vow that I made to God on that day when I said "I do so make covenant" (for those who wonder, another way of putting it is "I do in this way make covenant"). It's fiery to say the least, and still makes my eyes widen with inspiration whenever I read through it.

jesus-army-celibate-vow-covenant

I know around two hundred other people who have also made this same vow. What is it that would drive so many people to make such a commitment?

Here's another example of a celibacy commitment which I read the other day, and which also made my eyes widen, as well as bringing on a deep, passionate sigh when I read it:
Initiate:  My Father
I abandon myself to you.
Make of me what you will.
Whatever you make of me,
I thank you.
I am ready for everything.
I accept everything.
Provided that your will be done in me,
in all your creatures,
I desire nothing else, Lord.
I put my soul in your hands.
I give it to you, Lord,
with all the love in my heart,
because I love you,
and because it is for me a need of love
to give myself,
to put myself in your hands unreservedly,
with infinite trust.
For you are my Father!

Minister:  What do you ask?
Initiate:  The mercy of God and of the church.

Minister:  The Lord Christ has chosen you to be in the church a sign of pure love.
Initiate:  Uphold me, O God, according to your word, and I shall live; and do not disappoint me in my hope.

Minister:  Do you commit to celibacy in the context of Christian community so long as you shall live?
Initiate:  I do.

Minister:  Do you give yourself fully to the church?
Initiate:  I do.

Minister:  Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others be faithful only unto her, so long as you shall live?
Initiate:  I will.

Minister:  Do you, (name of initiate), promise to love, rather than force your way; to give your life away, no longer living for yourself but for your sisters and brothers, loving them, humbly submitting to them, shepherding them, living with them?
Initiate:  I do.

Minister:  Do you (name of congregation/community), promise to honor (name of initiate) as part of your family and not to take his/her offering lightly? Do you take (name of initiate) to be your brother/sister, to love him/her, comfort him/her, honour and keep him/her in sickness and in health?
Larger community:  We do.

Minister:  Family and friends, do you rejoice with (name of initiate) in his/her love for the church?
Family and friends:  We do.

Minister:  Are you willing, now and always, to support and encourage (name of initiate) in his/her promise to church community and celibacy?
Family and friends:  We are.

Minister:  God, receive this daughter/son
who has promised single-minded devotion to you.
Give him/her grace to keep these promises,
sustain him/her by the encouragement of this community, and lead us together into eternal life,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
What a deep and hearty expression of what it means to be an avowed celibate in the church, particularly within the context of Christian community.

Anyone else want to take up the challenge of lifelong celibacy?

----------------------------
References:
Above quote taken from:
Celibacy commitment, p.560, Common Prayer: a liturgy for ordinary radicals, Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Zondervan

Further Reading:
   Jesus Army interviews Shane Claiborne
   The Simple Way (The Christian community where he lives)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Celibacy, community, the mop and the bucket

"Celibacy and christian community go together like a mop and bucket."
A quote from Thea at one of our New Creation Christian Community evenings a while back.

mop-and-bucket

Thea, as a celibate, is a great example of a mop. (Nothing to do with her hair, honest.)

The mop gets stuck in. It's not afraid of the toughest and dirtiest of jobs. It is able to clean and freshen in the places other long, bleach-soaked, stick-like cleaning accessories cannot reach.

Should a celibate not be like this, aspiring to be the greatest of servants, getting truly stuck in in every way possible, whatever the need? Giving their whole self without reserve to God and the church in their daily life. Getting stuck in with the practical, getting stuck in with people, getting stuck in in every way they can.

Thea is such a person. A true mop.

And where would this mop be without her bucket?

As Thea says, community life is like the the bucket. It 'contains' the whole of life in many ways - the blessings, the trials, the frustrations all fit together when you're sharing your daily life with close friends in Jesus.

For the celibate, community makes life make sense. Why else should anyone want to devote themselves to singleness for the rest of their life if not for people? Besides, we all need something to "squeeze all the muck out of us" (another of Thea's quotes)!

So, yes, celibacy and community do go together like a mop and bucket.

Not that all celibates should have to live in community - far from it! - nor that everyone in community should be celibate - no way! - but the two do go hand-in-hand in a way that makes sense.

Well, bucket, this is mop signing off.

Further Info
One Heart and Soul Thea talks about living in Christian community (video)
Like Mother Theresa Thea features in Jesus Life magazine

thea-godly-slade-celibate

Friday, 2 December 2011

I WISH I WERE MADE

fire-heart-for-god

A poem from a friend from a while back, which still makes my spine tingle today.

I wish I were made
just of this longing
for it knows exactly what it wants
and where to look
it aligns itself so well with God
but the rest of me – mind, emotions
even my imagination
seem so mismatched to this yearning
so dull to you dear God
and yet you became a man
so there must be some resonance between us
but what change must be wrought
for me to take my place truly
in your eternal bride

sometimes it is tempting to believe
this bride is just a metaphor
for something less
but no God forbid
if it is a picture it must be of something much more
something unboundable by any frame
untraceable by any hand
unsearchable by any mind
and only the longing of love knows
and I must be transformed by it

Wilf - 2006