“I’ve got to get out of this office.”
I don’t know if I say these words aloud or if they’re just in my head, but on cue, I push away from a computer screen I’ve been staring at too much for the last couple of weeks and make my way toward an exit.
“I’m stepping out for a minute,” I announce to the office manager before throwing myself into the heavy double doors leading outside.
With jacket buttoned and collar up, I step out of the church and set about pounding the pavement on an excursion to procure an additional cup of joe. The wind whips and snaps around me, demanding my attention as I try and push my hands deeper into my pockets away from its bitterly cold touch.
It would appear my body knows what to do, even if it fails miserably in achieving warmth. A saunter down the sidewalk to visit the local barista, while needed, is just an excuse. The truth of the matter is I need to clear my head, and while the cold air doesn’t blow all the stifling cobwebs away, it helps.
Nevertheless, my escape is tainted. Even with a short walk, I’m conditioned to plan and prioritize. Already I’m thinking of what comes next after coffee, and my mind meanders back and forth, unable to stay focused. I find myself recalling the most random conversations from the past week. Some provide hints of consolation, while others leave me no option but to force a smile and drop my gaze. All prompt me to wonder if anything actually ever changes.
This thinking takes me on a much longer journey than the one leading me to the Java shop.
I should be decompressing after surviving multiple Easter services, but the training I can’t seem to shake kicks in, and I slip into an all-out Ignatian-like Examen. Plagued with an inner dialogue of guiding questions, I try and name where I’ve encountered the divine presence lately and end up instead trying to answer where the divine presence has found me.
“I try and name where I’ve encountered the divine presence lately and end up instead trying to answer where the divine presence has found me.”
This opens a floodgate of vulnerability I’m not ready for as I try and name my location in the grand unfolding of creation.
Where am I in the universe? Somewhere between the struggle and the reason. Working frantically to stay out from under a wheel I’m both pushing and in danger of being crushed by. A conflicted state. Loathing what I see as my pedantic knowledge and envious of those who wield it better than I do. Burdened with a calendar full of loose ends. Left alone to gaze upward at the heavens, shouting in desperation at the bewilderment of the stars. Trusted to entertain and outwardly romanticize the ruins of Christendom while secretly dismantling what remains of it.
And like with any thoughtful query, I’m led to answer another: How am I right now?
Oh, a mess. Filled to the brim, running over, numb and up to my ears with institutionalism. Whittled down so much that I’m inching closer to my worse fear — afraid of being dull, boring and my words irrelevant.
Maybe the scariest thought I can share, and be ever so honest, is I don’t know how I feel any more, and that scares the shit out of me. Hear me when I say I still experience weekly joy. Receiving it from my family and in other surprisingly unconventional places. Maybe my struggle has to do with reaching an age where the purpose is foggier than it used to be. Yeah, that’s a helluva self-reflection, especially coming off Holy Week.
Pushing ahead, I realize I don’t often get the opportunity for this level of self-reflection, to turn inward, not when so much of my attention gets called elsewhere. I won’t spend time creating a trope of the chaotic days of ministers. I’m willing to wager you’ve heard enough of them or at least better ones than I could offer here.
For good or bad, the rumors are true. There is an all too real and slightly intoxicating desire to be busy and needed. Unfortunately, clergy have plenty to choose from to supply this fetish. Yet, for a couple of years now, the old standbys aren’t creating the same kinky sparks they used to.
“There is an all too real and slightly intoxicating desire to be busy and needed.”
Carried by my musings and lost in self-absorption, I almost miss someone calling my name. Out of an existential daze, I slip. Eyes scanning for the beckoning source when they finally land on two familiar faces. A pair of endearing rascals who operate a local business I hebdomadally frequent.
Even before their establishment officially opened, I began a relationship with them. Those of similar frequencies tend to search out and find one another, and so was the case with us. I was drawn to them, and they to me. We hit it off right away as people of a shared pitch.
Our chat picks up where we left off last time, conversation coming naturally. We laugh, cajoling one another with our recent doings and antics. Our back-and-forth banter is never forced, a noticing I tuck away, reminded yet again of the obvious fact I have a hard time doing the same in the presence of other pastors when we’re discussing subjects outside our vocational duties. My baroque flair often collides with my peers’ civilized professionalism.
Case in point. Before parting, one of my newfound compadres regales me with his undertaking of concocting homemade mead. In fact, the glowing yellowish and brown bottle he’s holding is filled with his fermented experiment.
“You wanna try it?” He asks.
I don’t hesitate, “Abso-freakin-lutely,” I say.
And there, off the beaten path of fetching coffee, my thirst for meaning is quenched after he untwists the cap. And with a swig, I sense what Mircea Eliade wrote of when he championed the term “hierophany,” the manifestation of the divine in the regular.
For me, this is seen and tasted in the floating and blended contents courteous of a man’s endeavor and bees’ efforts. I long for more ministry moments to be like this, not only for myself but for others.
We part ways shortly after this, and I continue back to the task at hand. Going through the motions needed to grab a coffee, but even before I get back to the office, I know my bean juice will be set aside and left to grow cold. My warmth for the day already has been achieved. My reason is secure. My purpose is still intact.
Here’s to helping others recognize the possible sacredness in everything.
Justin Cox received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, spending time in the kitchen and amateur gardening, Justin spends time with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. He began his tenure as senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Suffield, Ct. in August. Find his ramblings at blacksheepbaptist.com.
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