For my father, the Rev. David Michael Stoddart, on his 58th birthday, January 8, 2019.
My dad is an Episcopal priest. He preaches beautiful sermons about the meaning of life on a weekly basis and spends a great deal of his time with people experiencing the very worst of human pain. But, on his day-off, he likes to buy groceries. And if he’s not wearing his collar, parishioners will walk right by him in the store without recognizing him. When he says hello, they are usually pretty startled! This is funny, but also reveals a lot about what we think of religious life. We often expect so-called “holy people” to be set apart from the workings of the world. Thus Father-David-buying-Greek-yogurt-at-Kroger doesn’t really compute. But a great privilege of being the son of a priest has been my ability to see how incredibly worldly ordained ministers actually are.
Some people don’t even think to imagine my dad without his clericals or his alb or his chasuble. But I know from experience that he’s not always in church-mode. Sometimes, he’s just in his sweatpants, doing the NY Times crossword in our living room. Or he’s in his cozy red flannel, cooking meatloaf and potatoes for our family. Or he’s watching the new Trevor Noah special with me in the den. Or he’s napping in an armchair or a hammock, taking a break from the hustle and bustle. Or he’s having an intelligent conversation with my sister and me about alt-rock (I have recently learned that my dad likes Death Cab for Cutie… I think this means he’s a better hipster than me).
These are of course rather silly examples, but they carry profound meaning and reflect my dad’s orientation toward the world. After all, my father sees no cognitive dissonance between his life as a priest and his life as a dude in sweatpants who watches stand-up and listens to Death Cab. It’s all one life. For him, the secular and the sacred are united. There is no contradiction between church-mode and home-mode. The Incarnation of Christ—the God-made-Human—does away with the boundary between the holy and the mundane. The merging of these two worlds is symbolized in the Gospel when the temple veil is torn at Jesus’ death: by Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, the Holy is no longer hidden from the material world, but part of it, entwined with it. My dad knows that he is continually loved by God in Christ, and continually part of God’s great story, no matter where he is, whether he’s in a “religious” space or not. He is no farther from God when he’s picking up groceries than when he is administering Holy Communion or baptizing the newest member of God’s Kingdom.
I so often forget this integration! Here at school, I find myself understanding life as a primarily secular existence punctuated by occasional moments of sacred joy. But my dad reminds me that it’s all sacred. All of it. Praying with fellow Christians at the monastery where I worship? Sacred. Suffused with God’s love. Eating with my roommates in Eliot d-hall? Sacred. Suffused with God’s love. Struggling over an assignment in the wee hours of the morning? Sacred. Suffused with God’s love. Watching funny videos and playing games with my friends? Sacred. Suffused with God’s love. For my dad, the ordinary is the home of the Extraordinary, and the normal is infused with the Supernal. Christ dies, the veil rips, and one world remains, enclosed completely in the Love of God.
Thus, while it seems jarring to some people to see my dad outside of church-mode, for him, nothing has changed. God’s Love is no less present, no less important, no less real. I pray that as I learn and grow, I may come to see the world as my dad does: the world of the torn veil, filled endlessly with God’s lifegiving Spirit, where the sacramental and the mundane are blurred into one shared reality which is the Kingdom of God.
Aidan Stoddart ’21 is a Comparative Study of Religion Concentrator in Eliot.