Two Questions From the Weekend, pt 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a great time leading a retreat the other day with Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, Massachusetts.  Before the Saturday retreat, I met for dinner with the two leaders helping me prepare for the day.  Michelle and Amy treated me to a tasty meal at a new favorite place, Not Your Average Joes.  Incidentally if I’m ever in Boston and you’re there too, you can take me there for a meal.  Note that I may come with family.

During our conversation, Michelle asked me two questions.  Her first was why do you lead these retreats, and I thought out loud about that in my last post.  In this post, I’m rambling about her second question.  The context of our retreat didn’t really relate to her second question since it was a broader, bigger question.  She asked, what is your dream?

Some kind of way I was expected to answer first.  So I tilted my head up and thought about the largeness of the matter.  Michelle caught my thought as if it were a tossed ball and said she knew it could be answered in many ways.  I knew exactly what I wanted to say.  Only later, when she and Amy answered themselves, did I think I miscalculated.

Their answers would hone in on particular things they wanted to do, while mine focused on the broader answer right before that, what I wanted to be.  I told them that I wanted to be a faithful pastor while being a good writer.  My dream is to serve the congregation in front of me, people I know, and to serve the reader I would probably never meet.  That has become a persistent abiding dream.  It’s a part of the play that I think of when I close my eyes.  Those two worlds combined serve as the stage on which my life is.

I’m thinking about words all the time.  I’m listening to the stories of others, making sense of them, or trying to.  In one role I’m sharing an old story, turning it over, researching its rudiments and investigating the world from which it was written.  I’m trying to interpret that story for my life and community.

In the other role, I’m wondering through the creative process and attempting to write the story in my ear, the story in front of me, the one that, unlike the old story, resists revision right now.  It’s the story I’m working over, thinking about, and going back to once I’m done writing this post.

I want to do well at both.  I’m not the type to attempt something and quit.  I’m destined to send myself nuts, but it’s the only route I know.  I blame it on my birth order.  At least today.  But these two parts of me, these untraceable pieces of my character, compose my dream.

I appreciate Michelle’s question.  I wonder how you would answer.

Two Questions From the Weekend, pt 1

I was in Boston for the weekend to lead a retreat with new friends at Highrock Covenant Church.  Our denomination’s department of Christian Formation has facilitators, me included, who are dispatched to facilitate these invitations to prayer when local churches request them.  I’ve done a half dozen of these retreats in the last years, and Saturday was my latest opportunity.

Friday evening I enjoyed a meal with Michelle Sanchez and Amy Bositis.  We talked about the usual things, our geographies, our stories, and how we came to the places we are.  We spoke of our families, ministries, and, of course, we eventually got to the matter of last minute details for Saturday’s retreat.

Somewhere in the midst of eating, Michelle said she had two favorite questions she wanted to raise.  Her first question is the one I want to write about today.  Her second question comes in the next post.  They are questions worth answering, considering, and answering again.  They are questions worth keeping.  The first one: why do you lead these retreats?

I heard the obvious in her question.  She was planning to introduce me in the morning to a group from her church, and she wanted what wasn’t in my brief bio.  But I also heard a more general, penetrating question: why do you do what you do?  Have you thought lately about that question?  Why do you do what you do?  Why do you spend the time you do where you are?

It would help to know that the particular retreat we participated in is an assortment of prayer practices paired with various passages from the Bible.  I answered Michelle’s question simply.  I told her that I get to do, in these retreats, two of the most essential pastoral acts, and since I’m a pastor, the retreats are perfect opportunities for me to do two things I love: I get to teach people other ways to pray, and I get to put people before the scriptures.

So I get in planes or in rental cars and arrive at new places, meet new people, and wade through awkward or familiar ways to pray.  There is silence and music.  There is usually chocolate, a lot of reading, and, this time, there was bell-ringing.  There was my getting lost because Boston’s streets are notorious for their signage.  Several participants told me, in other words, either you know your way or you don’t.  There were sweet sisters in religious life.  There was a visit to a friend’s new church.

But Michelle’s question sparked the weekend.  Before the questions and the answers and the warm greetings of members from her church.  Before the smiling and hand-shaking with nuns so warm it made me think of fresh bread and a crackling fire.  Before the Sunday night return flight and right prior to Sandy’s arrival.  Sitting at the table, with a tasty dish of pecan-crusted chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, and green beans, Michelle anchored me into my work.

She helped me remember why I did my work.  And I thought about how good that felt, because there are things about work that aren’t always good or enjoyable.  There are people I know who grieve their work, people I know who don’t have the work they want or any work at all.  There I was getting to enjoy the consideration, getting to look forward to tomorrow, getting to embody the connected pieces of my vocation.

And like the pecan chicken and the tomato basil soup before it, the day ahead would be splendid.  The weather would be glorious for it, even if mornings following would bring winds so strong they’d make children shudder.  Leaves would fall easily to the ground in many gardens.  Sun rays would stretch across our heads and around the chapel like our favorite music.  And I would enjoy every moment of it.