staying open and grounded...

Today has been one of those days I anticipate after all these years of being in ministry: an
unplanned encounter with people's unexpected pain.  It actually started yesterday at midday Eucharist when only a few regulars showed up. On those days, our liturgy becomes more of a pastoral visit that concludes with the Lord's Prayer and breaking bread. 

But about 20 minutes into things a small, disheveled man showed up walking down the center aisle. As I turned to greet him, he knelt - kissed my hand - and started speaking greetings in Hebrew. No kidding! (Later Carlton smiled when I recounted this and said, "Only you, man... only you!") Our guest kept on kneeling, but switched to English and began to ramble on about a host of problems, blessings and people that had impacted his life. In time he smiled and said, "You know, at our best, Jews and Christians - and probably Muslims, too - are intertwined in love. We celebrate and honor the same Lord, we often sing and pray the same words and we're all children of Abraham." There were a lot of other things he said for the next 30 minutes but they were pretty jumbled. We brought things to a close with blessings in English and Hebrew, a few hugs and then he schlepped off.  But half way down the steps he said, "Oh, would any one like a holiday fire ball? (a candy) I just bought some and thought it would be good to share."  He left four on the communion table.  Who knows when or how the Lord will be born into our world in unexpected places, yes?

This morning it snowed - more than the expected dusting - and that set things in motion: phone calls from people wounded in love, the Berkshire ARC tow truck to take away our desert truck that has finally succumbed to our harsher climate, my beloved wife's tears of loss over that sweet truck as well as my working on worship notes for Christmas Day. A ton of ups and downs all in the first four hours of the working day!  Good thing I planned for keeping things open and free. Its something I learned from the past masters of pastoral ministry: life gets wacky around our major holidays so make certain to leave space in your schedule so you can be present for those who are hurting.  Kind of the whole Christmas story in miniature, right?  In years past - and other congregations - I've received calls of unexpected deaths, one mate coming home to find their spouse in bed with someone else, suicides, over-doses, violence, birth and everything in-between.
So, while I never know in advance what challenge will pop up at this time of year, I do know that something will... and leave the few days before Christmas (and Easter) wide open. That's the only way I know to stay loving and grounded:  space, rest and riding loose in the saddle. As I get ready to finish up my worship notes for Christmas Day (thank God Christmas Eve is done) I am thinking of these words about those who perished in the warehouse fire in Oakland earlier in Advent:

For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn’t understand.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our churches become such safe havens. Would that this were true more often.  I posted these words on our church FB page - and got hundreds of hits and
affirmations. It was yet another clue that there is a deep and yearning hunger for tenderness in these harsh and cruel times. Tomorrow I'll visit a few folk as Di works and try to hit one of the nursing homes, too. S
tay open, dear friends, that the Spirit of all that is holy and healing greets you as we move closer to the blessed Feast of the Incarnation.


Barbara Barkley said…
Thank you for this. Thinking of you and your sweet spirit today. I know we connect rarely, but you are in my thoughts today, so reaching out. I hope you are well and that you have a wonderful Christmas.
RJ said…
My dear friend Barbara... so right that we don't connect often enough. Such is the weirdness of our lives, yes> But you are often in my thoughts and prayer. Truly. And I cherish seeing updates about your new life and ministry and the challenges of being such an excellent mother to your great children. I give thanks for the times we were able to hang together. And that FB gives us a chance to regroup from time time, too. Merry, merry Christmas.

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