Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The value of just showing up...

One of the things I am learning after nearly 30 years of doing pastoral ministry is the value of just showing up.  Mostly I don't have a lot of answers, right?  I have experience and a bit of wisdom from time to time, but I really don't have many solutions to the problems people share with me.  But I do have time to listen - listen carefully and compassionately - and I can pray... so more and more that is what seems to matter the most.

Call it a ministry of presence, a commitment to showing up and being fully present to another or even the care of the soul within a local congregation: it matters.  My old mentor, Ray Swartzback, used to say you need to spend an hour out in your community for every hour you spend on writing your sermon.  For me that works out to about 6-8 hours of inter-action outside of the church each week in homes, having tea, walking, listening, sharing lunch or just showing up.

Henri Nouwen, in one of my favorite little books called The Way of the Heart, writes:

Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.

(Unlike the desert fathers and mothers) a look at our daily routine (will tell a chilling story.) In general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements and our years are filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are WORTH thinking, saying or doing... all this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be.

Nouwen wrote these words in 1981 - I've been reading them over and again for 30 years - and only now am I trying to embrace their wisdom and worth.  At today's midday Eucharist, our lectio divina led one woman to observe that while we are called to attend to the challenges of the day, we can also leave the rest to God and in this let go of our burdens. I was blessed by her insight - so were the others who sat around the Lord's table - and all because we took time to show up and sit in the quiet love of the Word.  After Eucharist, two others took time to tell me of some of the challenges and blessings in their lives and asked for my prayers.

What a tender privilege and sacred obligation to share their prayers with the Living God.  What BETTER use of my time could there be?  Graham Standish once noted that the reason most declining and dying churches ARE declining and dying is because "they have become too focused on what their (existing) members want."  So listening and being with members AND the wider community is one antidote to this trap - especially if it is coupled with "allowing time for prayerful discernment with a an emphasis on listening for God's voice." (Becoming a Blessed Church.)

Eugene Peterson took it one step deeper when he wrote this in The Contemplative Pastor:

American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose and its impatiently hustling ambition. None of these marks is remotely biblical. Not is faintly in evidence in the gospel story. All of them are thoroughly documented diseases of the spirit. Pastors are in great danger of being undetected carriers of the the very disease we are charged to diagnose and heal.

It has been a beautiful for there is GREAT blessing for ALL of us in just showing up in quiet and careful prayer, yes?

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