As a clergy person I lead people in worship. That means that I spend time with people, and while I’m with them, I point them to God. I facilitate people’s encounters with the Divine. I don’t create the encounters. I don’t create the people. I sometimes simply nudge people in a direction, or turn them around, or push them to keep listening or seeing or waiting until they notice Who was there but was, somehow, unseen. You might say that I do this for a living. In other words, when I’m with a person, a pair, or a group I’m asking the unrelenting question, how can I help this person encounter God so they can live?
What often comes with this occupation is an abiding question: what enables me to encounter God? The other day I was thinking about why I wasn’t sleeping. I was turning over in bed, trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t envy my wife or my son. I was listening to them slumber, Dawn right next to me, Bryce in the other room. Both of them were whispering little dreams to themselves, hardly moving, content. I was, as I said, turning and trying to flip away from the little anger in me that comes with occasional insomnia.
It’s not insomnia, I tell people. I can actually sleep. It’s just that I can’t sleep like abnormal people, on command. I sleep in a different time zone. I sleep later, but I do sleep. I can’t sleep like my wife or my brother, both of whom will enter into sleep 13 seconds after pulling a sheet over themselves. I look at them and I wonder why they aren’t more normal. Why don’t they fall asleep? Why must they jump into it?
When I am not asleep, my head dances. It doesn’t throb or ache, but it dances to the music of a thousand thoughts. I think about a congregant and it gives me reason, again, to pray. I think about class and whether I should just get up and read in preparation. I think about the novel I’m currently reading, Donna Freitas’s The Survival Kit, which I greatly enjoy, about the book of Maya Angelou’s poems I’m slowing reading and some snatch of words it left me. I think about one of my heroes in ministry, how he’s aging. I think about what I’ll cook tomorrow with that roasted chicken and whether I’ll cook the potatoes with onions and asparagus or just with the onions.
On the pre-dawn morning in question, I got to remembering when my son was crying a few days before. He has a tactic—I’m convinced that’s what it is—where he’ll whine, which I despise because it is a pernicious method in undoing me, and while whining he calls for his mother. He’ll do this in a tone that makes me contemplate how quickly I can climb down from our balcony and onto a neighbor’s despite our sixth floor setting. His voice, which isn’t a voice as much as a dismal sound in the distance just like the fire truck that kept sounding all night long that night prior and that I counted screaming four times from 6:55 to 7:23AM, his voice drones as he calls.
That day, last week, he called her as was normal and then he started into my title. Daddy. Daddy. And like a dripping drain it came until I turned looking for a clue because I had already started failing at my dogged resistance of the boy. I am really good at keeping the rules of our parenting pact. We don’t go into him after he’s in bed. But that week was a strange week for a lot of reasons. And we caved. Dawn mostly did, but I did too. I had come home late two evenings, rather than one, and he hadn’t seen me. He missed me. Dawn said this to me. I said this to me. Bryce’s whine said this to me.
After it all was done, days later, there I was listening to those damn birds that sang all night long because they, too, were confused about the weather outside and about whether birds should be awake and singing from 2:30 to 5:30AM. I didn’t know they were keeping me company. It took the congested sound of the delivery truck, gurgling below at 7:35AM, for me to remember that earlier, melodious birdsong. I lay there thinking about the way my heart jumped when the boy called for me. I didn’t move as quickly as I wanted to, but I did want to.
It got me thinking that my son was in a dangerous position, a position anyone loved by another can be placed in. Bryce was a potential idol. He was a potential reason for getting up and doing. He could become, I thought while fighting for sleep, the reason why I did what I did. That little toddler, full of nonsensical noise and play and fun, could turn me away from the One for whom I’m spending my life. I know it’s a slip of movement. It’s a crazed thought, one that I’d probably only come to when I hadn’t been taken my some real night dream instead. But it stayed with me, that thought. It was like all those birds and that heaving meat truck and those red blaring engines from the night and the morning. It didn’t leave me.