Pastor at rest in pursuit of vision

Mary Magdala Community

Pastor at rest in pursuit of vision

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div, Ph.D.

On more than a few occasions I have demonstrated to the community that a methodical view of the preaching I do would consist of creating a metaphor in which I hold the Bible in one hand, and in the other the poems of Wendell Berry (especially his Sabbath poems).  To put it in a way I hope he would recognize:

Often I go with Wendell

to the cleared field and to the wood,

to rest, to see, to observe,

to absorb the life and the death of leaves –

falling notes of wordless grace,

turning silence into speech,

spreading light into words.

Having passed the first few weeks of my stepping away from the role of a pastor in the community, I want to explore in this time of rest precisely how to be pastor in this community, made up as it is of members who bring such depth of faith as well as abilities to conduct the details of community life.  Such is the gift of belonging to this gathering of believers we call Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community.

Let’s allow Wendell to start us off.  Here is a poem from his collection, “The Timbered Choir: the Sabbatical Poems, 1979-1997.” 

1979, IV

I leave work’s daily rule

And come here to this restful place

Where music stirs the pool

And from high stations of the air

Fall notes of wordless grace.

Nature, as it so often does, grounds the inspirations we receive and graces life with rest.  Wendell’s appreciation of rest from labor is one example of his view on both activities (although the former is best described as inactivity.)  In rest his senses are heightened by wind on the pool and leaves on and off the trees; a place of rest where vision is experienced as transformation.  In this poem, he leaves behind a thought of the primal garden in which evil first appeared, as he continues:

I let that go awhile

For it is hopeless to correct

By generations toil,

And I let go my hopes and plans

That no toil can perfect.

There is no vision here but what is seen.

White bloom nothing explains

But mute blessedness

Exceeding all distress,

The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.

“There is no vision here but what is seen.”  It is a sign of blessedness, I think, that one’s mind and heart is capable of opening to that which is not of one’s making.  Here’s what I mean.

Take this question of being pastor, particularly in a community whose intentions include de-clericalism, a community who takes Peter’s charge literally when we read in his first letter, “You are a chosen people, a holy priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart.”  It seems to me that a pastor’s vision is to reflect back to the community:

Who we are.

What we have.

How we act.

Why we serve.

When we gather.

Where we witness.

This reflection back is a function of being together; a togetherness that acknowledges the gifts, the strengths, the weaknesses of one to the other – one no higher or lower than anyone else, all charged with sharing the duties of sustaining community.

With this in mind, I find myself considering three views on the meaning of being pastor.  First, be grateful, ever grateful.  When a person like myself believes that from an early age they have been given gifts of wanting to pray (and liking it), to spend time in thought, to live a blessed life, and to proclaim what they believe, then that person’s life may be called religious.  When the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, shape a person’s sense of the generosity of divine gifts then that person’s life is truly blessed.  To receive the gift of sharing all this in community makes me grateful.  This sense of sacramental gifts shared in community regularly and with the grace of “mute blessedness” is one I hope never to take for granted.

Second, take time.  My father used to quote a Latin phrase to me as he encouraged me to study well, and pray well as preparation for my life as a priest.  The phrase is, “Nemo dat quod non habet.”  Turns out this has a very specific application in the practice of law, particularly property law.  However, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean for me to apply the phrase in that sense.  That was for my brother, the lawyer, to do.  The usual translation goes something like, “No one gives what one does not have.”  I have always interpreted this as my father’s message to me to know what I’m talking about, and as a preacher to speak from experience.  In other words, if you are to lead prayer – then pray yourself, pray often, pray deeply, pray as though your life depends on it because it does.

The priority for pastors to give what they have, in this case the “have” being a relationship with the divine, is one of highest and deepest commitment of their time in service to/with their community.  The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-7) for this past Sunday (5th Sunday of Easter) gives clear evidence that this priority for pastors is one of utmost importance.  The apostles appointed deacons (who were presented to them by the community) to take care of practical matters.  This appointment was deemed necessary as they said, “This will permit us to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word.”  Just as Dad said, “Nemo dat quod non habet.”

The third view on being pastor is, be called.  This is not some form of ritual and neither is it an announcement the pastor must make.  To be called, I think, has to do with vision; one has an experience of the divine that opens the way to offering and preparing oneself for a life’s journey.  Such vision takes a lifetime to realize one’s call.  Wendell Berry’s poem “1979, IV” contains the line, “There is no vision here but what is seen.”  The pastor is both observer and interpreter.  A single vision or apparition is insufficient for a life calling that is based on a relationship that shifts, changes, and deepens over the years.  We may say there’s such a thing as love at first sight, but we know that’s not true.  Love, true love, interprets what is seen and applies that over a lifetime.  A pastor is called to be attentive to what is seen, because the appearance of the divine is seen all too quickly.  It is as a flash of light that we try to remember or duplicate after it’s gone.

The Belgian theologian, Judith Gruber refers to the revelation of the divine as a subversive act that dissolves entrenched powers.  But the subversion is only a flash, as in the disruptions that oppressed and marginalized peoples engage in on city streets.  It brings up the vision of Pope Francis that the church is a field hospital caring for the wounded.  One must be prepared to recognize the “seen” revelation of divine presence, and the pastor must be ready to instill such vision for the benefit of the community which has seen the light.

These three: be grateful, take time, be called, are views of a pastor at rest “turning silence into speech, spreading light into words.”

Thank you for allowing me to be a pastor at rest in pursuit of vision.

              A poem

Often I go with Wendell

to the cleared field and to the wood,

to rest, to see, to observe,

to absorb the life and the death of leaves –

falling notes of wordless grace,

turning silence into speech,

spreading light into words.

     Be Thou My Vision

                                         Adapted by JR, 2021

Be Thou my vision, O seal of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art:

Thou my best thought, by day or by night,

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true call;

I ever with Thee as Thou art my all:

Thou my great Par-ent, I Thy creation.

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches  I  heed not, or false empty praise,

Thou mine inheritance, now and always:

Thou and Thou on-ly, first in my heart,

High pow’r of heav-en, my treasure Thou art.

High pow’r of heaven, my victory won,

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever be-fall,

Still be my vi-sion, O Guider of all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × five =