Forty years ago, I found myself distracted. I was living 20 miles northeast of Baltimore in a small town that was fast becoming a suburb. Assigned there by my denomination to start a new congregation, I started out with a fair amount of confidence and energy, and with strong personal, organizational and financial support.
The seething energies of spirituality are evident everywhere. That is good. What is not so good is that spirituality is also prone to lack of clarity, making it difficult to carry on a conversation about it.
In Ephesus, Timothy walked into a congregational mess with the mandate to straighten it out. He inherited both the legacy (left by Paul) and the problems for which others (among whom were Hymanaeus and Alexander) were responsible. Like the tohu wabohu of Genesis 1:2, pastoral vocation doesn't begin with a clean slate.
No birth was ever celebrated enough. The miracle and mystery of life is too much for us to take in. The Christian community sets aside 12 days to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is never long enough. A few years ago, on the seventh day of Christmas, I got in on my first birthing, my first firsthand experience of this holy mystery.
When I was an adolescent, one of the visions that filled my head with flash and color and glory was the French Revolution. I actually knew very little about it. Some vague impressions, incidents and names mixed haphazardly in my mind to produce a drama of pure romance, excitement and the triumph of righteousness.
My study, where I read and write and pray, is set on a cliff overlooking a mountain lake. Each morning I sit at my window and watch the lake fill up with light. It is a quiet place and spacious. A mountain chickadee and red-breasted nuthatch show up most mornings, embroidering the silence with their chatter.
I grew up in a Christian home with good parents. I was told the story of Jesus and instructed in the right way to live. I was loved and treated well. Childhood in my memory was a fair approximation of the garden of Eden--a good and wonderful creation.
Several years ago, when my wife and I were living in Pittsburgh for most of a year, we set out to attend worship in a church where a friend was the pastor. We had never been there before, but I knew the general direction and thought I could find it. Pittsburgh is a city built on hills at the conjunction of three rivers. Few of the streets go in a straight line for very long.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.