Inclusive Community
"Celtic Cross with Rainbow" 
by Andrew Craig Williams

Reflections from a Lindisfarne ordinand:

“A Contemplative Diaconate; a Prayerful Priesthood”

I think that what I want to talk about is the numenalityof Holy Orders, rather than their functionality. I want to explore the heart-and-spirit of the diaconate and the priesthood, rather than further defining (as in a job description) the practical purposes they are designed to fulfill.

I mean to explore the liminal aspects of ordination in a way that goes beyond the limits set by the conventional and predominant ideas about ‘ministry’.

Oddly, this intention leads me to talk in very practical terms about a cognate of concepts which form an organic understanding of a way of life— a way of being-in-the-world.  Since I can only speak from my own experience, I’m going to describe how I’ve lived out this noumenal understanding in plain, ordinary, and quite literal ways.

The first practical discipline I engaged in was the study of ballet and modern dance, beginning at age 15. A few years later I began to practice Karate-do in a very traditional Japanese school. I gradually developed the intention to integrate these disciplines into a single heart/mind/body whole. This resolve grew out of my personal philosophy, which had developed throughout my life as a result of my study of Stoicism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism.

Over time, I experienced that the noumenal and creative aspects of my study and practice were melding with the practicalities of balance, body mechanics, and the application of force; while those features in turn were blending into the precision of memorization and sequential analysis; and again, those same properties were merging into an awareness of beauty, artistry, and grace. There was also an attribute of these disciplines that I’ve always been hesitant to try to articulate— an attitude of rigorous application, stern accountability, and the intentional exercise of courage. I’ve never been able to find a one-word description of it (other than “shugyo”which comes from the Japanese) but this attitude became a central principle guiding all of my various disciplines, and forming them into a unified practice. 

When I was baptized as a Christian, the Way of Christ represented a broadening and deepening of my life-practice, and a more comprehensive and heartfelt expression of my way of life. My commitment to this practice resulted in the literal and practical action of selling everything that I owned, paying off all my debts, donating many useful items to a grass-roots homeless shelter, and joining The Community of St. Francis, an Episcopal religious order and convent. 

In that setting, I discovered that my integrative understanding of life-practice is notself-explanatory, and is seldom shared by others. It was there that I recognized my call to the solitary life, in part because of that very discovery. Even though I left the convent, I never abandoned my heartfelt principles, or my dedication to the Way of life which had led me there.


The ‘Contemplative’ Diaconate:

From a contemplative perspective, the state-of-being called “Deacon” might be understood as the full expression of useful service, practiced as an intentional, holistic discipline and way of life.

The word ‘service’ has many nuances and connotations which are beautifully presented in its many synonyms— ‘assistance’, ‘kindness’, ‘attendance’, ‘utility’, ‘maintenance’, ‘repair’, but the word ‘service’ as applied to a contemplative deacon still needs an adjective in order to complete the description; one which implies skillfulness—a person who serves with an adroit, deft, and agile attitude which neatly dodges all attempts by the ego to make a big deal about it. Humble, capable, fitting, useful,aptservice. 

A contemplative understanding of the diaconate might focus on the importance of living intothe meaning of skillful and useful service. A deacon might be described as a person who unswervingly holds space for the work of maintaining the beneficial and mending the broken; a deacon’s job might be imagined as a continual practice of ‘making room’ for helpfulness and kindness to come out of hiding and manifest themselves in people’s lives.

Someone who follows this calling as a life-practice would not bother to construct a self-image labeled “Deacon”. Instead, they would understand that being ordained as a Deacon and recognized as such by a community means that they are not alonein their awareness of the value of such a life-practice. Once ordained, such a person will always be aware that they are acting on behalf of, and in the interests of, the ordaining body, and not just on their own account. This kind of mutual acknowledgement empowers and endorses a person’s commitment. It helps them to keep their balance; it gives them handrails, so to speak. Stability and steadiness has always been one of the best functions of a community— not only to encourage, aid, and comfort its members, but also to guide, teach, and caution them. 

I hope that this understanding of the ‘contemplative diaconate’ as a liminal and noumenal Way of being-in-the-world is one that the Lindisfarne Community will be able to share with me. In this context, our definition of the diaconate would expand to include the understanding of it as a way-of-being, or a condition of life; one which is contained within a certain frame of reference; or a stancedefined by the primary values around which all of the deacon’s actions and choices revolve.