I’m a vicar who has worked in a beautiful part of northern England for over two decades. Every year I am required to take part in a ministerial development review (MDR), when I meet with either my local Bishop or Archdeacon. It’s an opportunity to talk about my progress in ministry, how my work is going, and who I am beyond parish life. Usually, it’s a helpful and painless process, but it does involve filling in forms. Fair enough. However, when you get to the end of the form, you are asked to come up with some priorities, as well as review progress on your priorities from last time....
I don’t know what it was this year, but for various reasons my form arrived late. I filled in sections of my form and, I would say fairly efficiently, until I came to the section asking for my priorities. By Sunday evening, those parts were still empty, but with the form needing to be emailed I sent it off with a single sentence promising I would work on these before the day of my interview. Over the next four days, as I considered the question, little rose to the surface. Come the day, having reflected further, I thought, Why can’t I take a Zen approach with this? How about the priority of no priorities?
This was a serious point. What if sometimes you just can’t put your finger on any priorities? Not through idleness or rebellion, but because you feel that your spirit is inhabiting a different space? Then, I remembered a previous review, when the same questions on the form had niggled me. At that time I printed a copy of the page headed, Goals for the Coming Year, and in the six boxes I printed in large letters three lines from Eileen Myles’ poem, Peanut Butter, which read: “I am absolutely in opposition to all kinds of goals.”
I want to hold on to what I’m beginning to discover here. It’s partly what attracts me to this idea of feral spirituality. As I watch my very non-feral dog laying in a sunspot scratching his ear, I think I can identify with that itch. At 56 years old, and especially in this long emergence out of a pandemic, the Spirit is revealing something worth exploring. A time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to speak and a time to be silent.
Thankfully, I know it’s not all about me. The Covid experience has unsettled many, but in a good way. Has disrupted a lot, but creatively. From the early days of the first lockdown I have come across parishioners wanting to challenge the former ways, the standard liturgies, and the inherited expectations in church life. They are ordinary people, who may not have heard the phrase feral spirituality, but they are beginning to breathe the oxygen of honest questioning. They’re scratching their own itches and I have no doubt that this is the itch of the Spirit. If feral spirituality is worth our time, then there’s a good chance that Jesus got there first. Who can forget his conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter three? When he says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”