Monday Considerations, Pastoral Routines, & Soul Junk

Monday has been my off day for years, ever since I started working in a church, with the long exception of having to be on-call at Sweet Holy Spirit for administrative matters.  Back then, it wasn’t strange to get a minutes long call from our accountant or from a co-worker that changed the direction of the week.  Those Mondays are distant, though I hardly forget them.

Usually by Monday, since Sunday is traditionally a longer work day for pastors, I’ve lived through the equivalent of a work week with the compressed emotions of half a second one.  There has been the previous week itself.  It will bring with it conversations that stop me, meetings that unsettle me, group chats where someone is inevitably struggling with faith, offered counsel that helps or hurts people, conflicts left open for too long.  There are projections about the future of the church, potential partnerships or courses of action.  Quiet is seldom found without effort.  There is the loneliness that feels like a heavy blanket in summer.  There is the balancing of my own soul.

By Monday, my sleep has been disturbed for a few days in a row, dealing both with the expectation of Sunday and all that it brings and the throbbing exhaustion that comes afterward.  Sleep will catch up to me by the next day usually, but when Monday comes, I’m somewhere in the middle of looking at the day for the deep breath it will bring and planning for the week, even though I’m trying not to plan.  The busy tapping of my phone tells me that there is an email or a text.  I check it, only to see if it’s from someone whose text I actually read on Mondays, a tiny list of loved ones whose requests are of a slightly different order.

On Mondays I do much less.  Sometimes I fall into the mode of catching up with things at my address.  There are errands to run for myself.  Things Dawn has asked me to do.  There is laundry and dishes and remnants from the previous night’s dinner, and all the things in everyone else’s home.  There is the smell of urine that comes from the place where my son tossed his pajamas that morning, and the sneaky feeling that I’ll never stop cleaning the tile and washing the sheets, that I’ll go to work smelling of my boy’s liquids.  I remember the conversation about reintroducing pull ups for the overnight shift, and I feel that aching familiar feeling of failure that never totally leaves.  It’s one of those reminders in my life that I need grace.

For a long time I think about meaningful moments from the previous week.  And I try to think about nothing at all.  But I’m not successful.  There is the crammed calendar and the list of things.  This week there is one more sermon in the current series.  There are the big anchors of the upcoming message rolling around in my head and falling to my feet.  There is the nagging persistence that what I preach matters and doesn’t.  There is the slow, night-time work of an assignment due before the end of next week.  There is the upward and onward motion of not wanting to stop and the competing better desire to quit for a bit.

Quitting for a bit is the point of Monday.  But it is hard to do.  Leaving my moleskin at home and walking.  Picking up a book of poems and heading to the Point.  Exercising with no thought or nobody’s question or open conversation rattling for resolution.  Eating a recreative-for-me meal that someone has prepared.  Laughing with my friends or someone who for a moment is in my life for that sole purpose.

The anticipation of tomorrow is brutal on the soul.  Not just mine.  Not just a minister’s.  But everyone’s soul.  Thinking ahead into the next day, into the next post-Sabbath, into the second day of the week, is theft.  Planning ahead is robbery.  It’s sinister because we both believe it must be done and are so good at it.  Good at leaving now for later.  Good at staying nowhere for long.  Never being present.  Never reaching future.

It seems to me that it’s underneath most of the layers of our junk.  Yet it’s also over the basic simplicity of our souls this movement ahead.  But there are springs that come up through the layers.  Springs: those people who ask a simple question and wait for a response.  Springs are those messages that come from the lips of angels, the ones that stop your breath for a moment and help you appreciate the moment because it almost took you.  These are the things I need to consider on Mondays.  God, help me, especially since it’s Tuesday and the next Monday feels like a year away.

Aridity

I would go through periods of dryness, and they were very exacting and very costly, too. But in those arid times I still had to do my work, preparation. And I found that I preached not only out of the fullness…but I preached also out of the aridity, the emptiness.

In the transcript of our interview, two years ago, with Dr. Gardner C. Taylor

Questions for Preachers, Writers & Everybody Else

Peter Scazzero, a pastor in New York, asks 10 questions of preachers in an article at Preaching Today, and they just may apply to other vocations and professions as well with some slight nuance.  See if any of these speak to you, your life.  I’ve included a sentence from the article along with the question:

  1. Am I grounded in my own contemplation of God?  Quoting Benard of Clairvaux under this question, “You don’t have the walk with God that sustained the weight of responsibility that you’re carrying and I fear for your soul.”
  2. Am I centered in Christ?  When we’re not centered in Christ, we end up preaching out of a reflected self—finding who we are from other people rather than who we are in God.
  3. Am I allowing the text to intersect with my family of origin?  Our family system defines us far more than we think it does.
  4. Am I preaching out of my vulnerability and weakness?  The truth is that we’re as weak and broken and vulnerable as anyone in our congregations.
  5. Am I allowing the text to transform me?  This sounds simple but it isn’t.
  6. Am I surrendering to Christ’s process of birth, death, resurrection, and ascension?  This process can’t be forced or controlled.
  7. Am I making time to craft clear application?  It is not something you do at the last minute.
  8. Am I thinking through the complexities and nuances of my topic and audience?  It takes sensitivity and empathy for how complicated human life is.
  9. Am I doing exegesis in community?  But I always try to have at least one other person that I can talk to…
  10. Am I connecting the message to our long-term formation?  I try to connect people creatively in ways that sheer speaking can’t.

I think all of these are relevant for ministers, even ministers who aren’t preaching regularly.  But these questions can be just as anchoring for people who work in other areas.  Peter’s post is full, and if these questions interest you, do read the entire article here.

Steady Radiance

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

From Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings (pg. 56)

A Prayer For Writers #3

Periodically I write and post a prayer for writers and for others.  These prayers come out of my writing life, out of my hopes for the writers among us, and out of my desire for this blog to sit at the intersections between faith and writing.  Pray them or a line from them, with and for the writers you read, know, and support.  This prayer is about faith.  Join me, if you will.

Dear God,

Unfold faith in us when our hands clench doubt.  Pull the cord keeping us tied to what we see, and spin us in twirling circles of enfleshed hope.  Open our eyes.  Make our vision or visions clear, unencumbered by the litter of lifeless life.  Where we sit and, then, lay in faithlessness, give us confidence to rise.  Whisper to us the way babies do, in tones that are anything but quiet.  Call to what talent you’ve placed inside us.  Speak to our futures and talk to us until we believe enough to take one more step forward.  Grant the same loud whisper tomorrow and each following day.  When we are overwhelmed, convince us to stay faithful, to keep going, even when going is steep, hard, hardly possible.  Give us little bits of you and make our days decorated by grace.  We will be lonely in our work, and that loneliness will tempt us.  Please be more powerful than the emotion that comes from our long obedience.  Be more convincing than all the feelings within.  Be more.

In the name of the One who wrote lost words in the sand,

Amen.