There are many ideas out there of what a pastor should be, and most of them make little sense to me. For many, a pastor should be primarily concerned with managerial duties, with charisma and fundraising, with crisis management or motivation or chaplain care. As I understand it, a pastor is one who lives with God and with the people, one who knows their names and carries their hurts and reminds them that God has spoken love and goodness over them. A pastor does not throw out a ceremonious prayer before big events, like the mayor tossing the first pitch on Opening Day. A pastor sits bedside in the dark hours and begs God for mercy. A pastor walks into the ruins, fully aware of her own threadbare soul, and announces wholeness.
A pastor does not only tend to the big visions, the big ideas, the big people. A pastor knows his own lowliness and walks into the ordinary places and with the ordinary people. A pastor, with a voice steady and true, hallows the ground and the rain and the marriage and the purple blooms of Spring — because this one thing we know: God gives life, and this makes every inch of life beautiful and good.
Jim Casy, Steinbeck’s broken preacher in Grapes of Wrath, knows this terrain:
“I’m gonna work in the fiel’s, in the green fiel’s, an’ I’m gonna be near to folks…Gonna learn why the folks walks in the grass, gonna hear ’em talk, gonna hear ’em sing. Gonna listen to the kids eatin’ mush. Gonna hear husban’ an’ wife a-poundin’ the mattress in the night. Gonna eat with ’em an’ learn.” His eyes were wet and shining. “Gonna lay in the grass, open an’ honest with anybody that’ll have me. Gonna cuss an’ swear an’ hear the poetry of folks talkin’. All that’s holy, all that’s what I didn’ understan’.”
Michael Ramsay, former Archbishop of Canterbury, puts it together in a sentence. “The priesthood is to be with God, with the people on your heart.” We listen to God, and we listen to Mrs. Jenkins down the street. We pray to God, and we laugh with those who are struggling to ever say a prayer. We live love, and we live it with actual people who have actual names and who live in a specific place with very particular fears and hopes and longings. Some of it annoying. Much of it mundane. All of it the stuff of pastors.