The Diary of a Plain Pastor

And mind you many a fellow who waves his arms like a furniture-remover isn’t necessarily any more awakened than the rest. On the contrary. I simply mean to say that when the Lord has drawn from me some word for the good of souls, I know, because of the pain of it. {George Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest}

 

Sometimes my sermons are boring. I know, sometimes I bore myself. It’s actually worse for me. If you’re listening, you have the option of nodding off, and you can even appear especially spiritual if you arrange it to appear as though you are buried intently in your Bible. Standing at the lectern, however, it is immensely hard to snatch a snooze.

Thankfully, Christian preaching is not about capturing attention or giving the congregation a good whirl. Preaching takes shape in the very human act of a Christian community gathering together to speak, receive and obey God’s words. Seldom flashy. This should be no surprise. With my sons, I suspect it will be the mundane, forgotten rhythms far more than the few high-gravity encounters that will most profoundly shape their souls. Dinner conversations, popsicles on the front deck, afternoons mindlessly tossing the ball – it’s all about the rhythm, presence, living our story. The same for a church. We gather, we speak, we listen, we strike the rhythm again and again. We are present. We live the story.

Yet none of this suggests the Bible is dull or lackluster. The Good Book burns. The Word illumines. Preachers use to speak of a “fire in the bones.” I’ve felt that fire here and there. And the priest is right, there is a pain to it. There is a pain to knowing the stories of the friends who’ve gathered, the ones who can barely drag themselves, limp with tribulation or fatigue, to this sacred space. There is a pain to knowing that a few who are listening are giving God and hope one last shot, but just barely. There is a pain when you’ve seen a hint of something beautiful – but you know you have no words and that you can’t make anyone gaze along with you and that, even if you could make them, you wouldn’t because forced love strips all the love right from the thing.

The old priest speaks of God drawing the word from him, this word good for the soul. That seems about right. When one of these fire-in-the-bones moments happen, I confess it’s usually a surprise. Typically, it accompanies a solemn holiness or a rupture of laughter or, most often, tears – but it’s always as if something’s happening to me rather than me making something happen. It’s God prodding, God pushing into my own heart, finding my disappointment or joy or sorrow (for myself or others) and then bringing that hidden place into the open.

And it’s painful. It’s painful to be reminded of your own brokenness and to glimpse the brokenness of others more clearly. This isn’t a woe-is-me pain, for sure. This is the pain each of us knows when we’ve done a good work, and we cry and laugh at the beauty before us. The farmer viewing his crop at the cool of dusk. A mother watching her son walk the aisle. A painter laying down her brush and a poet speaking syllables into life. One of the strangest truths in God’s world is this uncanny coupling of pain and beauty.

But a good portion of my art happens in the parish. I’m a pastor, the plainest sort. And today I’m listening to the old priest and finding my own tale mingled with his.

3 responses to The Diary of a Plain Pastor

  1. Thanks, Winn. I miss hearing the honest and courageous words you offer to those around you.

  2. Winn Collier May 9, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Well, Suzanne, I miss having you present – and having you to speak words back. Peace.

  3. I love these lines:

    it's all about the rhythm, presence, living our story. The same for a church. We gather, we speak, we listen, we strike the rhythm again and again.

    One of the most beautiful things I learned from you and continue to learn is how to live in rhythm and to be okay when I don't "feel" close to God, but to press on and press in. Peace to you.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.