Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Touch

Earlier this week, I attended a seder. Not one a them Christian seders that progressive congregations love to dabble about in as a sign of their general openness to things. Those are fine, I suppose, but I prefer my funk uncut.

This was a seder at my wife's synagogue. It's an extremely progressive and inclusive Jewish community, but also one that is deeply connected with tradition. There's a strong preponderance of unapologetic Hebrew both sung and spoken, mixed in with singing and geetar and an openness to all. I enjoy it.

One of the things that struck me during the service was the use of a phrase during a prayer to describe those who really understood the value of the Passover event. It articulated thems who deeply get it as folks who have known "the Touch." The Touch, as it was used here, described that awareness of G-d's presence, that connectedness to the Creator that goes beyond abstract theological concepts and ritual formalism and doctrinal frameworks and into the existential reality of a person.

I found myself musing on that, and on how it relates to being a pastor. For many years, I struggled with my connection to Christian faith, which had...for all of it's much deep and abiding grace that I found it intellectually and morally compelling. As annoying as I found much of fundamentalist Christianity, I could see even in my annoyance that the core of the faith had ethical validity.

But that conceptual and ethical connection just was not enough for me to feel called to pursue the ministry. It was an appreciation. A sense of being simpatico with the teachings of Christ. But not call, either to be a disciple or a pastor teaching the faith.

Call was different. It came in moments of intense awareness of God's presence that turned my agnosticism's doubt in on itself. Then, in more moments, some vast and deep and infinitely calm. Or in dreams from which I awoke trembling and changed.

Without those, I would most likely still be attending a church. I enjoy the community, introvert though I am. I would certainly still be volunteering time to care for those in need. I've always valued that. But in the absence of that sense of God, that paradoxical connection with the infinitely transcendent grace of our Creator, I know I would never have pursued ministry. It would have felt inauthentic.

So, yeah, I'm a pastor because I'm a little "touched." No surprise there for anyone who knows me.

How important is an awareness of God's presence for those serving as pastors? Is it essential? Trivial? What thinkest thou?


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  2. "Or in dreams from which I awoke trembling and changed."

    Oh yes.

    (There is a kind of dream that isn't really a dream. I don't have it very often, but when I have one, I know I've had one).

    "How important is an awareness of God's presence for those serving as pastors? Is it essential? Trivial? What thinkest thou?"

    I should think essential. Or at least having a convincing memory of it.

    But I think it might actually be rare.

    And so often you get instead, those who defend doctrine - sometimes called "faith once delivered" - as if doctrine was a maiden in distress, or those who challenge doctrine, as if the windmill were the dragon.

    It's complicated.

  3. I've known a lot of bad to mediocre pastors. But I've been privileged to know quite a few very intellectually and emotionally inspirational pastors, . Nevertheless, I've often felt that 95% - sometimes 99% - of religion was bulls--t. But the 1% that is genuine, is so powerful as to make all the rest irrelevant. I've met maybe 2 or 3 pastors who were "touched", as you say, in that 1%. They were truly transformational.

  4. Dear Frater Dave,

    I don't know...hard question. As I pursue my own calling to ministry (applications to Duke and Union in Richmond completed, still working on Eastern Mennonite...) I've been thinking a lot about this very issue.

    The pastor of my church retired in January and he was definitely in the "1%" but he also wrestled visibly and sometimes from the lectern with doubt and despair. I think that openness and honesty made him especially beloved and influential.

    I, on the other hand, feel pursued, even hounded by the Hound of Heaven. And watching God pick me off like a sniper acquiring a target is freaking out some of the people I worship with. As I catch fire and begin to burn, and as that flame begins to move out into more and more areas of my life, folks are moving away from the conflagration before they get caught in it.

    I'm wondering if my intense awareness of the presence of God will not be an impediment to reaching whatever future congregation the Lord decides to foist me on, poor bastards.

    "And the fire and the rose are one..."


    -Frater Dawg

  5. @ Brother Dawg: I've struggled with that as well, particularly as it speaks to my own calling.

    If you discern that it'll impede your ability to teach and serve and further the Gospel, then seek and pray for the ability to throttle back a bit. The intensity can still be there...and you can still find venues to share it. But congregations as social entities and organizations find the ferocious monomania of the intensely called very difficult to incorporate. That's to be expected...even all of created being isn't enough to contain the glory of God. It's a shattering, shattering thing.

    Seminary can help with this, providing a cohort of fellow-called who can help you develop that tricky interface between the infinite One and the very-much-less-infinite nature of a congregation.