Pretty much anyone around college will tell you that I have been over-excited by a door for the last two weeks. Not just any door, mind you, but a door that I can close on the world. (I know. Friendly, aren’t I?)
The door arrived next to the desk which has been available for use by me and other external formation tutors this year. It arrived with little fanfare and lay propped in various places around the room the days I was in that week. The next time I came in though, I found it standing up with the beginnings of a doorframe and wall struts being built around it. The space is not huge and so that week it was easier to walk through the wall than it was to use the doorway. (What can I say? Now you know how Jesus walked through walls.) And as I walked through that wall, I was reminded that I had only prayed for a door, not a wall, and maybe it was time to pray the wall into place too. 😉
This last week, I walked in and it was all done. Door, wall, some bookshelves and a paint job on the new wall. All done apart from the door locking mechanism, that is. Although that is a story which I know our amazing maintenance guy will prefer me not to tell. Suffice to say that had a video camera been around, I think we could have made some money from You’ve Been Framed.
On the door – this now-famous prayed-for door! – I stuck a long quotation this week. I’ve had it printed out for ages, meaning to put it somewhere I’ll see regularly. It’s an excerpt from Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor (p.278). I copied it out ages ago because it so resonated with me. It describes his desire to be an unbusy pastor. I can’t quote it all but here’s the paragraph which is helping me to articulate something in this sabbatical period:
I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence. I can’t do that on the run. It takes a lot of time. I started out doing that with you, but now I feel too crowded.
As I have gone in and out of this little office in the last week, I have read this over and over. I have read it and something has begun to settle in me. This is what I long to be. Reflective and responsive and relaxed in God’s presence so that I can be that way in your presence. This is what I have been struggling to say in so many ways. So many posts and so many journallings and they slip into the same theme: the best of me comes from the place of stillness, of being.
And I have not felt like that counts.
I have not understood that my reading and studying, my commitment to articulating in sermon and blog and coffee shop with you what it is to be the church in the complexities of 21st-century life – that these things are exactly the work of a pastor. I have not realised how my work is a hermeneutical task as much as any: that as I seek to read the Scriptures and the saints wisely, that as I strain to hear the Spirit, I do so for you as much for me – in order that together we might live the life of faith, here in our corner of West London.
I have forgotten how hard it is to pray in the midst of a marketplace life, how the madness of métro-boulot-dodo consumes and renders prayer an embattled reality. I have forgotten that when I pray from the space which pastoring is intended to carve out in my life, I pray for us – and when I wait on God, seeking to become reflective and responsive and relaxed in his presence, that I do so for us.
On top of it all, I have not known that unhurried time for me to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence is exactly what you need from me – that, more than programme or peer (or pastor?) pressure, you need someone to hear your heart and direct you to him.
I have discounted what is most holy and traded it for a lie about productivity. Though I rage at this lie in my academic writing and wrestle for a truth which is more true, I have allowed the lie to shape my living.
Because until recently I have wondered what it was that I bring to this church. What value do they get from paying me? I know that I preach and lead, that I am often chief dreamer and principal agitator of our little church. I know that I get into people’s homes and people’s faces, loving and teaching and calling them forward and sometimes reproaching them with sadness too. But I’ve found it hard to know why that warrants a salary, part-time though it is. Especially in the face of the all-consuming mountain of things that I have not been able to do. And I’ve hardly dared admit that to myself because I’ve not known what to do with it. Instead I’ve lived out of what – theologically – I can only call shame. A shame which drives me to keep up this tremendous stream of doing, a re-positing of self as worthy and a justifying of the money I am paid to do this work of ecclesial leadership.
Until now. Thanks to Peterson – and something one of my co-leaders said about the strain of the life of faith when you are full-time in the marketplace and trying to lead a church and parent well. Thanks to them, I’m coming to know something.
I’m coming to know what kind of ecclesial leader he has made me to be, after years of trying and failing to articulate it. I’m coming to know that I have not owned the significance of directing my energies towards the pursuit of a life which might perhaps – one day – be in some small way an icon of him. I’m coming to know that though I have not owned this, yet it has always been the whispered hope drawing me onwards.
And perhaps this sabbatical is making me wise to see and brave to say…
…this kind of leadership is more than enough.
This is a post in my sabbatical series.