Reflections on the last 48 hours...

In the last 48 hours I have had the privilege to be with...

... a young mother from mainland China who asked me to help her understand the core of Christian compassion. She wanted to know "how to read the Bible" after she had almost given up after trying to work her way through Leviticus. She is a Taoist who wants to know more about our understanding of nature's wisdom and how it helps us live a peaceful life. We'll spend another hour together next week after she's spent a little time with gospel according to St. Matthew.

... a young man from a neighboring Roman Catholic church who knows my guitar playing from local TV. He burst into singing "Amazing Grace" in the dairy section of our local Stop-N-Shop this evening as we were picking up a few things and then proceeded to share with me his favorite Christian hymns as we walked through the frozen foods.

... a voter registrar who said, "Oh, your names aren't up-to-date on our records because the census probably came while you were on... sabbatical. And I know it wasn't vacation!" He then helped us get up to date so that we could vote in today's municipal election and wished us God's blessings.

... a young cellist who is joining our instrumentalists in the "Missa Gaia." He is awesome - and only 17! After a vigorous musical workout under the guidance of Carlton, he said, "Now I am in!" What a joy to get to know him and hear him play!

... two of our congregation's veterans as we prepared a prayer ceremony for Sunday. They are men of integrity and depth and have taken responsibility for helping us remember those who are so often forgotten and invisible in American but upon so many of us depend.

... an organizer in our of our area's eco-justice advocacy groups - BEAT - who told me she is so grateful for the solidarity our congregation embodies in our shared compassion for Mother Earth. She was clear: we take seriously the call to be servants in cooperation with those working at the grassroots level and it makes a big difference.

As my sweetheart said on our way over to choir practice tonight, "Looks like you've been doing your job, man! People all OVER this town know you and the work of First Church!" I had to smile because my "outreach" is not traditional when it comes to pastoral care. Yes, I am blessed to visit people in the hospital. And when I am needed, I am grateful to visit in the homes of our members, too. But I am just as likely to hold office hours in a downtown coffee shop - meeting city council people, shop owners and the folk who hang on the street - as i am to be in my office. I make a point of getting to know the waiters/ waitresses/bar tenders in the clubs we play jazz at from time to time, too. Or the teachers and administrators whenever I can make a periodic visit to some of our local schools.

This is a small community. We see one another in the hardware store and the supermarket, the library and the post office to say nothing of the regional hospital. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to visit someone in the hospital only to see another person who knows me from TV - or a jazz club or a school - who then stops me and asks for prayer. It doesn't matter if they are Jews or Christians or nones or... who cares? Nouwen wrote:

Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing, it is letting the warmth of Jesus’ love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening a space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love displaces fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference.

In order to be fully present to all the folk who want to connect - within the confines of our
congregation and in the wider "church on the street" - I have discovered the need for real inner silence and periodic ventures into solitude. Because it is not that I don't want to be connected, it is just I need to be ready to stand and deliver without any notice and sometimes I am just worn out. These past 48 hours have been sweet - and the remaining five days look to be chock full of commitments. There are more rehearsals for "Missa Gaia" this weekend, a congregational harvest dinner, worship notes/study to prepare, midday Eucharist, pastoral conversations as well as a trip to Albany on Friday to see Mavis Staples and Joan Osborne and one of my dearest friend's wife's birthday in Connecticut.

People who don't do this gig don't know what it is like to always be "on" while in public. That is why I give thanks to God that we stepped away from the fray last week for some quiet self-care and introspection in retreat. Without it, burn-out is inevitable - even a burn-out born of love. Now that we are well into the whole re-entry thing, pacing and prayer is more important than ever before.

photo credits: dianne de mott

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