Burnout, exhaustion, malaise, worry. We all have days when life feels more draining than energizing. Sometimes you are driving home from the office after a 10 hour work day and wondering if there is any food in the fridge to make a nourishing supper for the children. Sometimes you look around and notice that too many of your friends are grappling with dementia or cancer. And then there are the days when you feel fine but the television news bombards you with political scandals at home or earthquakes and floods abroad, the death toll in the thousands.
This summer I stepped away from the fast-flowing river of weekly preaching and into the deeper well of prayer, reflection, study and planning. Not only did I devour stacks of books on theology, spirituality and church leadership but I also took a course on “The Poet and The Preacher.” One line in an essay by Mary Oliver reframed how I see not only preaching but also the basic purpose of the Christian life. Oliver writes:
“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision–a faith, to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.” *
Oliver’s words spoke to me on so many levels. Sabbatical was a life-cherishing force. And I am grateful to you as a congregation for creating the sabbatical policy so that pastors may renew their own souls every 7 years. But also it spoke to me as a preacher. Preaching, when it works for the person in the pew as well as the preacher in the pulpit, is a “life-cherishing force”, not a scolding lecture! And most importantly, the Christian faith is a life-cherishing force. Not a rigid set of rules to make us feel bad. God is a life-cherishing force. Not a scorekeeper in the sky.
As Christians, we do not need more words. But we all need fires when we are cold. We all need ropes let down to us when we are lost. We all need bread in our pockets when we are hungry. Yes indeed! I picture God creating the world, beginning with the Garden of Eden delighting Adam and Eve with a life cherishing force. And I picture Jesus breaking bread and pouring wine so that all might taste the life-cherishing force.
And I picture you and me, in the Sanctuary, this Sunday sharing that same life-cherishing force.
Grace and Peace,
*A Poetry Handbook page 122