In o’er 40 years of ordained ministry…
How oft has it happened, in settings public,
when people asked me: “What do you do?”
and when I answered, they changed the subject?
Long ago, I learned never to judge their intent (as if I could know!).
Did they have futile or, worse, sorrowful experiences with institutional
(which, depending on one’s point of view,
is “organized” or “disorganized”) religion?
Or was their formative religious or spiritual introduction
too doctrinaire and objectionable;
more a prison than guiding instruction
or too laissez-faire and impracticable;
less-than-useless in the face of life’s hard questions?
Or did they see me as a “professionally-pious,” “holier-than-thou” person
thus, someone living (dying!) to engage them in conversation about religion:
“Do you know Jesus?”
“Have you been saved?”
“Let me tell you about Jesus!”
Or any or all of the above or something else, something more or less;
thus, anything remotely religious
being the-last-thing they would choose to discuss?
I don’t know, for long ago, again, I say, I learned never to judge.
And how oft has it happened, in settings private,
(whether or not knowing who I was as a person,
knowing that I was a parson,
therefore, knowing what I did
or thinking they knew what I did,
which means I became a screen for the projections of their expectations,
their hopes that I would be trustworthy),
with little or no prompting word from me,
became in plain-sight, embodied epiphanies,
opening their hearts and minds, their spirits and souls
(not asking of me any wisdom, any answers,
thank goodness, for oft I had none,
but only that I listen),
telling, revealing unto me
their deepest concerns about life and meaning,
their darkest memories of grim circumstance and fickle chance,
of reckless choice and dire consequence,
of burgeoning guilt and bludgeoning shame?
Long ago, I learned to love, to long for these moments of intense encounter.
For, no matter what folk said, they,
even when speaking from the shadows of their most rueful experiences,
emitted the unmistakable, effulgent light of their being,
the unquenchable fire of their insatiable hungering for wholeness.
For, even with trembling fear and dread,
they, to a person, dared speak that one ringing, telling word of self
in all of its forms –
That ringing, telling, precious, sacred word? I
Whene’er then I heard and, now, I hear “I”,
this parson knew and knows that he was, is listening
and was, is bidden by God to pay heed to one
who sought and strove, seeks and strives,
as must we all,
to be and to become human.