One day, shortly after entering The Episcopal Theological School (ETS) found myself on my knees praying to God: “Use me as you see fit. No matter how difficult, I am your servant.” Little did I realize how dangerous such a prayer can be! In very short order, a few of my professors asked if I would be willing to study psychology as the Church needed priests who were also psychologists.
I had taken one psychology course in college, hated it, and vowed never again to expose myself to such ridiculous nonsense. As far as I was concerned, psychology’s ability to explain–let alone to predict–human behavior was hardly superior to examining the entrails of chickens. Obviously, I was totally ignorant of statistics.
Nevertheless, God’s Call being what it is, I knew I should follow up on the answer to my prayer (note to self: Be careful what you pray for). Serendipitously, ETS had cross-registration privileges with Harvard University, which was just on the other side of Cambridge Common. So I enrolled in “Theories of Personality,” taught by Dr. Norman Watt, in the Department of Social Relations. This was the “Eriksonian” branch of Psychology, as opposed to the “Skinnerian” branch.
Dr. Watt was a real revelation. His approach to personality theory was rigorous, critical, and exciting. I was transformed. How different from my “Introduction to Psychology” in college! In short order, I was hooked. During the first semester of my senior year I enrolled in “Advanced Psychopathology,” a fascinating course taught by Dr. Watt. On a day spent working with the psychiatrists at the Boston VA Hospital, I was even allowed to interview a patient. I loved it and felt a real connection with the patient. However, the psychiatrist who observed informed me that i had been too friendly: “Patients need experts, not friends.” he said. “But he has never before told me that he had witnessed his sister drowning. I’ll have to ask him about that.” With that, I realized that God had recognized in me a skill that I had never noticed.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Watt summoned me to his office. Being a “frequent flyer” in the Dean’s office at ETS, I entered in fear and trembling. “Would I be willing to teach two sections a week of the introductory course Soc. Rel. 10a?” I was stunned. Me? A seminary student? “Yes, you!” replied Dr. Watt. I wasn’t sure i was up to it. Years later in a missive to Dr. Watt, I thanked him for his confidence in me He replied that “It wasn’t a matter of “sink or swim,” only of how well you would swim.”
A year after graduating from ETS and being ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, my wife and I found ourselves in the middle of the island of Jamaica. She was head of the Mathematics department at the newly built Maggoty Junior Secondary School. I was the priest-in-charge of three churches and five missions. In addition to the usual priestly duties, several of the congregants asked me to perform exorcisms as they believed that they were possessed by demons. Obeah, or voodoo, was very prominent in our area.
As the Episcopal Church doesn’t do exorcisms, I had not been trained in how to do them. But we do have a healing service that involves “the laying on of hands.” So I did that. It was wildly successful, some of which could be explained by the fact that around half of the people showed signs of epilepsy. The local physician was a church member, so I asked him if he could supply me with some bottles of Dilantin. “Sure!” was his response. After the laying on of hands, i would give some to any of the supposed epileptics and tell them to take one a day as part of their prayers.
People started coming out of the bush for exorcisms. Virtually all–epileptics and non-epileptics alike–received relief from their possession by spirits. It was a wonderful aspect of my Call. Nevertheless, while I had religious paradigms through which to understand what was happening, I lacked a scientific explanation. Dr. Watt’s inspiration was calling to me.
Among the books I had brought with me to Jamaica was Volume VIII of Carl Jung’s Collected Works, which I had purchased in an occult bookstore in Cambridge the day before I left for Jamaica. In the table of contents appeared a chapter on “The Psychological Foundation of Belief In Spirits.” Upon reading it, I discovered that Jung was describing exactly my experience with those seeking relief from their possession by spirits. I knew then that I would have to pursue training as a Jungian analyst.
And so, I began the long course of training that would result in a license as a clinical psychologist and a diploma in Analytical Psychology (Jungian analysis). Dr. Watt remained a mentor and friend throughout, as he is to this day. Many in the Church, especially Bishops Barrett and Spears, encouraged and supported me throughout those years. It has been a glorious ride. Those who have sought my assistance have taught me an enormous amount.
After fifty-odd years of practice, it is time to return to life in the Church. Of course, i have always served the Church as a non-stipendiary priest who helps out with whatever needs doing. That, too, has been extraordinary. I have helped out in churches in Chicago, Zurich, Trinidad and Tobago, Olympia. There have been some exciting moments: Celebrating the Eucharist for four Anglican Sri Lankans to the tune of automatic weapons during the war in the East; Praying with Muslims in Gaza during 48 hours of Israeli aerial bombardment. God’s Call has been enlivening, rewarding and adventurous.
Now the Call has shifted. In October of 2019 I decided to retire on 31 January 2021. Less of “retirement” than of “reconfiguring,” I am returning to full life in the Church. God’s Call now seems to focus on healing and the laying on of hands, as well as on podcasts to disseminate thoughts about religion, scripture and culture. I shall also offer consultations on responding to God’s Call. We can discuss discernment and formation as we engage God’s Call. We can consult scriptural and theological perspectives.
Everyone is Called by God. Given our entrapment in time and space, with its limitations on living full and productive lives In God, it can often be difficult to understand what God has in mind for us. Discernment will be our first priority. The second will be formation, that is, assembling a lifestyle that incarnates that which we have discerned.
We shall see how enlivening, rewarding and adventurous discerning and pursuing God’s Call can be!