Introducing “A Memorable Form Of Love”: An Interview With Spencer Reece

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 1 2015 @ 6:35pm

spencer

Dish literary editor Matthew Sitman writes:

This fall I had the pleasure of sitting down with the poet and priest Spencer Reece to record a long interview about his work teaching English, by way of poetry, to the girls who live at the Our Little Roses orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – a place also known as the murder capital of the world. You can read the entire interview in Deep Dish, which now is out from behind our paywall, and which includes my brief introduction to Spencer’s own poetry and the projects – a selection of the girls’ verse published in Poetry last month and a forthcoming documentary about Our Little Roses especially – that emerged from his time there. For those interested in Spencer’s background you can read a short biographical sketch about him here. The Dish featured his poetry last year here, here, and here. The interview itself tells the story of how Spencer found himself in Honduras and what he experienced there.

Below is an excerpt from “A Memorable Form of Love: An Interview with Spencer Reece,” in which he explains why it was while living in Honduras that he truly became a priest:

I don’t think I understood what it meant. I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a Christian. I don’t think I understood what the Eucharist meant. I don’t think I really understood any of it. I could repeat it intellectually, or write something on an exam. I had studied all of it. But it was all book knowledge, it wasn’t heart knowledge. I knew I was moving in the right direction, but I really didn’t know what it meant. But when I was with them, as time went on it, I began to understand all of it.

The Eucharist is a moment of intimacy, eating together, looking at each other. Like on the Road to Emmaus. And when I put the wafers in the mouths of all those girls lined up, I think I began to understand it.

Also, they have nobody, so they belong to God. There’s just no other way to explain it.

So then that began to make sense. I as a priest – as a shepherd, as a father, all those words that are used for priests – I literally became a father-like figure, which I’d never been, because I didn’t have children. I never thought I’d be in that position. That was happening to me. I believe what George Herbert wrote, that for him, he craved simplicity. And one of the things that he liked simple was his religion and his understanding of God, and that all God was, was love. As a priest, to communicate that message is what we’re supposed to try to do. We can’t do it perfectly, but that began to come through me. You know a priest really has to be there and not be there – the ego has to die in the spiritual life, so you have to kind of use yourself and not be there at the same time, so that God’s message can come through you. It’s not “Spencer’s” message. Of course it’s going to be some of my message, because it’s me, but you hope that there’ll be little sparks that are God’s that are coming through you. That seemed really important there with those girls.

Read the entire interview in Deep Dish – again, now without a paywall – here.