When I Could Ignore God No More
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
William Butler Yeats
It was in May 2020. I had been teaching Chinese children English as a second language, and it was my last lesson of the day, which started at 9:30 pm.
The lesson was straightforward enough. It asked the student to imagine where they would be in one year or 5 years and what they would do when they grew up.
The students’ answers were standard enough, but it was different for me.
As I asked the student the set questions, I continuously answered them myself. Would I be working in the same way in the future, and for how long?
Then stronger than ever, my internal dialogue, the conversation I had ignored with God for too long, was louder than ever.
“Do it and do it now”, it said.
My working space with old barbers chair in the cupboard-sized bedroom in the house in Thailand.
From the 12th of February 2020, I drastically increased the number of classes I had been doing each day to the point I was working 12 or 15 hours per day, paid an insufficient salary to cover our basic costs, to stop us from financially going over the precipice, I felt like I had no other option.
After three months of this, I was no longer enjoying the work. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed interacting with the kids and helping them understand more. I enjoyed the process, but sitting in front of the computer from morning to night was beginning to take its toll. I was just tired.
That is when, what had been a niggle, a simple aspiration to train as a priest since before my mum had died, became a yearning I now had to act upon.
My story sounds like a bit of a cliche, a calling ignored. A persistent and sometimes obtrusive voice in the back of my head, which I had at times spoken about; but never actually committed to. Until this point.
The lesson ended in good time, and I immediately looked through my old contacts on my phone.
Who could I speak to at 10 pm to help focus or solidify my thoughts? What did I need to do, and how could it be done?
I called one of my old bosses on WhatsApp.
The Rev. Don Witts used to be the vicar of All Saint’s Birchington in Kent, UK. The last time I spoke to him was in 2009, and here we were in 2020.
Don married my Dad to my stepmother in 2008 when Dad was terminally ill with lung cancer. He had got a special license so they could be married in the garden at home without the need for Dad to leave the house. The garden wedding was beautiful and tragic, but it was the right thing to do at the time.
Would he pick up the call after eleven years? I knew from former colleagues that several members of my old Board of Trustees had passed away, including two of my old mentors, Rev. Derek Crabtree (the former Dean of Keynes College at the University of Kent at Canterbury) and Miss Grace Jackson, OBE (director of housing within the GLC back during the time of Margaret Thatcher premiership) – both of whom a had enormous respect and personal admiration.
As it happened, Don picked up the phone. We chatted as if eleven years had passed in an instant. This is the measure of true friendship, that kind of relationship that defies time and space.
I had spoken to Don before of my aspiration to become a priest, and he spoke as if the call was no surprise except to say, “I am not sure why you did not do it all those years ago.”
Of course, he was right!
Don suggested that I get in touch with the London Diocese and pursue something he called a ‘Bishop’s Certificate’. He said that was what he had done many years ago.
He suggested that with COVID, being in Thailand was neither here nor there and that I might be able to do the course on Skype or Zoom.
Don asked, too, that he be kept up to date with events.
This then was my first actual step along the road to ordination.