Living into the truth...

Over the past few months I have quoted extensively from M. Craig Barnes in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet, and today I will do so again.  You see, I've been thinking a lot about the role of the pastor during his/her own times of grieving.  Barnes is explicit in observing that while a wound that is healed creates gravitas - that gravity of soul that "is strangely attractive to a society that has tried too long to lack nothing" -  nobody in a congregation is interested in our open sores.  As I reflect on 30+ years of ministry, I must sadly confess that I have known times when I was not only unaware of my open wounds, but acted out from within them before they had healed.

I have also been blessed, however, by one of the most mysterious truths of grace: sometimes churches can embrace their pastor when we are at our worst and offer us a measure of forgiveness and acceptance as well as a loving kick in the ass towards healing, too. So let me say out loud that for all the bad raps churches are taking today, they are often the true body of Christ, too.  Especially when faithful, humble and time-tested leaders are at the helm.  They know, as Barnes puts it, that "God alone is whole and complete, lacking in nothing."

So it only makes sense that those who have devoted their lives to talking about God would have at least a small matter that is missing, imperfect or habitually humbling... (Wise leaders know that ) these flaws uncover layers of character. Nobody wants a perfect pastor. Those who sit in the pews may try to turn the pulpit into a pedestal, but that is only a projection of their own flawed aspirations to rise above their creaturely limitations... what parishioners really want is a pastor who knows what it means to struggle against temptation and despair, like they do. 

They want to be led by someone who has also stayed up all night fretting over choices, regrets and fear, but who then found the quiet grace to start over the next morning.  They want to see the Gospel incarnated in a human life that is still far from complete but has become more interesting because the human drama in now sacred.  In other words, they want a pastor who knows what it means to be them, but them in communion with God.  Innocence is precious, but it's the glimpses of redemption that truly compel.

Lord, may that be so for me as I seek to serve these gracious, wise, flawed and loving souls in our small New England town.  We share a quiet and reserved affection and respect - love - and they have embraced me in my recent grief.  Together we have said, "remember: we do not grieve and sorrow as those with no hope."  And I believe that in my core even when I wonder how that is at work in my sister's death.  We have also said:  now we see as through a glass darkly... Like the hymn says:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

So many people have said to me in their quiet ways that they wish they could take away some of the sting of this pain. Thankfully, they are deep and wise enough to also say that they know this is not possible.  So their embrace and prayers become food for the journey of living into the truth of this day.  Alleluia.


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