ASHEN FACED to the wilderness then, Abba – woodwork lessons, family tantrums, and the doctors of the law all behind me. Who’d ever have thought life both joy and trauma? How shall I bear it, without her there to guide me? Or gentle father or mother, or sister or brother? In the wilderness.

Ashen faced? Aye, ashen faced. Beaten by “broken middle”.* Happier without your Christos “charism” – ordinary waking and working and sleeping and loving have suited me well – not so keen on desert weather.

Which theological college would be my cup of tea, Father? Which one, do you think, would be really me? Where’s the least traumatic training-ground for Galilee-work – or the dear old CofE? Not too much unpacking preferably. Probably fairly trad? Not too much facing up to the real inner me that thinks I’m barking mad.

Hey-ho, in a few year’s time it’ll be me who’s blowing the trumpet in Zion – and me who’s doing the ash. Dust thou art, I shall tell them, and what are you giving up? – I’ll ask. Then back to the vicarage I shall trot, for coffee and Church Times – bashing women-bishops and bashing gays – and funerial decline.

Ashen faced? You’re not kidding. Day and night out here I think I’m round the bend – and inside calls me deeper in. Where’s the right and where’s the wrong? Did the Temple doctors have the truth all along? But why then the belly-aching, this anger in me, the baulking at their glib exclusion? Why does my body ache for communion? Why this beckoning, this leading into wilderness, and why – O God I miss her – why the torments, isolation, why alone?

Yes, yes I hear her spirit, but soft-spoken, too soft-spoken – there’s a howling in wilderness here. She’s drowned out too often by louder silence – daring, mocking, roaring, scoffing. And I respond with my best essay’s texts – now it’s me who’s brandishing the feather! – and have to shout my defences as opposition turns up fork-tongued volume, shouting me down. Jump, screams the liar, you’ll come to no harm. Speak up, for God’s sake. Speak up, small, beloved voice of calm.

Yes, you heard. It’s a curse, I said, wretched period. Don’t make it worse. What do you mean – “priestly call”. What’s the use? I’m not being obtuse – you just don’t get it, God – womanhood – or me, at all.

O God! You don’t mean me, Lord? – not Michael Andrews – d’you mean me? But I love Richard, God Almighty. You’d better get real, see. Synod would have hysterics. I’m out here in wilderness. You don’t know them, God, or me.

Ashen faced to the wilderness then, Amma. Down from the pinnacle in one quick leap. Here the devil and the Pope and Archbishop spring surprises in the heat. How long, O God-on-high-and-yet-within this aching, hungry, yearning body – how long till I can show my own true face – held, softly sighing, in the embrace of home?

* from Rachel Mann’s “Presiding from the Broken Middle