That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either.
From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I could have never put my finger on the nature of my work were it not for this book. There's a whole host of meaning associated with pastoring people. You want people to see behind the veil of life, to see the work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit weaving throughout this life and the life of the gathered church for worship. And yet, Robinson, from a totally different angle, captures so much of my experience. I know what a pastor does, but this statement above answers a totally different question: what does a pastor experience from others?
There's a real gravitas, a real earthiness, about life that makes the intersection between the divine Trinitarian mystery and us marred people that is often best captured in a pub. It is, after all, a place where people's problems and spirits are joined. And I like to go and be amidst the people, because people don't mind getting into real conversations at these places of dark wood and rich ale. It is here where the pastoral experience makes sense.
"So what do you do?" I'm often questioned.
"I'm a pastor at one of the churches down the street."
And here we have reached the crossroads. Folks either clam up and apologize for their rough language, or folks ask for prayer. Robinson is perhaps more right than she knew.
And yet, truly, the pub is no different than the people of God gathered for worship, still marred, still looking for hope in something tangible, a transcendent God who can be felt: perhaps in communion instead of the other spirits. People will put on all manner of decorum on Sunday, which in Colorado could be just about anything, but must assuredly include the invisible mask.
There's lots of ways people will execute their mask. They might show their ambivalence towards me and others. Many simply ignore the pastor. Some will gripe. Even a few will blame me for many wrongdoings. Or just as often for not doing enough.
And then they'll come by my office, because if other people knew who they really were they'd be ashamed. But that person knows, just truly knows, that I won't judge them, and that it's a safe place.
And, hopefully, in a way perhaps not as powerful as God meeting his corporately gathered people, but potentially just as poignant, they will know that heaven can meet earth in the sterile place that is my office, with another marred human being sitting across the desk from them.