I remember my first year at seminary, a sister seminarian also in the M.Div. program said to me, “when you came out wearing that chasuble I thought, Now There’s A Pastor!” It’s ironic since, to this day, I don’t own a chasuble (a garment worn by some pastors when they preside at Holy Communion).
Comments such as these have always surprised me as much as they have warmed my heart. What does one see in another to describe them with the unmistakable identity of pastor?
When I think of those folks in my life I would call pastor, not just because they earned the title but because I have had them as my pastor … or would gladly have them as my pastor any day … a few things come to mind:
- They give grace without even thinking about it. Consistently assuming the best in another. Forgiving. Forgetting. Foregoing the bringing up of past slights. They make me feel safe.
- They willingly explore the heights and depths and endless possible interpretations of scripture and the ironic realities of life over and against what scripture tells us has happened, ought to happen, will yet happen…and they do it just as smoothly over coffee as over a margarita. They sometimes use the word eschatological, just because they can.
- They show up. Not always in person. Not for every single crisis. But often enough that I know in my darkest hour I will hear from them even if only by recalling in the depths of my soul a wise and hope-filled or possibly even humorous thing they once said. And I hear it in their voice; reminding me I am not alone.
- They say F*&$ more than some might guess, but they rarely if ever say G*&%$#! or J%$#@ C&*($% unless they are wrestling with God over an injustice not even they can fully fathom.) They also sometimes sleep in and skip church on vacation.
- Those who survive long-term have perfected the art of going under the radar AND rallying the crowd.
- They periodically say or write or paint something so inspired one cannot deny it was the Spirit creating.
- They struggle with depression from time to time, and it frightens them some. They have been deeply hurt by the injustices in the world at a personal level.
- They remember at some level everyone they have buried…and everyone they have baptized…and their prayers continue for those families long after they stop being their pastor.
- They sometimes talk about getting out, not being a pastor anymore, and they know their words are in vain. Their identity is only somewhat tied up with pastoring an official flock in an assembly of the faithful. As one of my strongest supporters tells me, “You were a pastor from the time you were born.”
- They have (and I type this oh so carefully lest it reek with self-importance)…Jesus eyes. NOTE: I do not see my eyes this way, but I cannot deny this physical transformation. I noticed this in my home pastor first. When I took communion from him, and looked into his eyes, I sensed he was looking beyond the person standing before him and into the heart of the person I wanted to be, maybe the person I had been before the world began to change me, and certainly into the heart of myself as a child of the living God. It made me cry then, and still does today.
Right before I left my call, a brilliant musician in my congregation tried to describe my eyes to me as he saw them when I gave him communion. He said, “there’s just something in your eyes in that moment every week that makes me feel that all will somehow be well in this horribly difficult life…and I leave the table feeling like I am not alone.”
The irony is that as he told me this, I found myself thinking, yes Tom, when you take communion from me, I see the same in your eyes. Souls connected by Jesus are given glimpses into the hope of the promise through one another’s eyes no matter which side of the table you are on. Which is why I’ve included in this post a photo of Maria & Jason Wolfe. Jason’s story is for another post; he left this world before preschool and he changed my life forever. He and his parents all have Jesus eyes.
Jesus eyes. Maybe you’ve seen them. They are the eyes of folks found in hospital rooms; in funeral homes; at bus stops. They are the eyes of musicians, and teachers, and recovering drug addicts. They are sometimes found in the faces of people in church.
If you haven’t been to church lately, this is a good season to find your way into a sanctuary. Don’t over think it…just go. Listen to the people sing Silent Night. Be mesmerized by the candles and moved by the music. Notice there are as many tears as there are smiles; maybe more. Let the ancient story speak to your soul. Let the Spirit of God speak to you in the sermon. Join the hurting, loving, broken, hopeful people of God at the table.
And pray…for others, for yourself, and for the pastor. Whether you’ve been ordained or are one who was born a pastor even though you’ve never stepped foot in a seminary, Lord knows it is a holy calling, and it ain’t easy.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
To all those who have pastored me, and pastor with me…Emmanuel.
“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til he appeared and the soul felt its worth…
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoicing, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”