I began today working for Collegiate, strategizing with other clergy about how to strengthen our system and its individual churches for years yet to come. It was significant work, each issue discussed nuanced by its connection to other issues of equal importance. None of us at the table took the experience lightly.
Later in the day, I did theological work. Preparing for this coming Sunday in Lent, I researched the biblical passage from which I will preach. Preachers don’t just stand up and say whatever they think or prefer. Our task is to understand the Holy Texts, who wrote them, to whom, when, and why. Only then can we build a reasonable bridge from the age of the Bible to our own. I’ve always wondered if a sermon gnome would ever start just dropping the finished product onto my desk each week. Apparently it’s not going to happen. A wonderful Professor of Preaching told us students years ago, “They may not like what you say or how you said it, but never let them be able to say you weren’t prepared.”
Then there were the e-mails... and the administrative tasks... and the preparations for an important church event this weekend... and some critical conversations with people who help keep the Marble ship afloat. That was my workday. My guess is yours was equally taxing, perhaps more so. So, what do we do in the evening after a day when we had just enough energy to do what was required, but not an ounce more? We find ways to restore our souls. And we all have different methods of doing that.
For me tonight, I am in my study at the parsonage listening to Gord’s Gold (Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest hits). That can take the bulk of the evening since he churned out major hit records at an incredible pace over the course of about forty years. To me, there’s something soothing about Lightfoot. I know the words. I can sing along, if I wish. And if I do so quietly enough, no one else will hear. He and I were young at the same time. My college and seminary years (and lots of young adult years afterward) are replete with memories that connect to his music. I’ve seen him in concert six times. But more than that, I must have spent a thousand hours listening to his numbers over and over and over again: Sundown, Don Quixote, Beautiful, Song for a Winter’s Night, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Summertime Blues, The Pony Man, For Lovin’ Me, If You Could Read My Mind (which I think was the finest rock song ever), and on and on they go. Tonight I don’t have to do anything except to listen and let the melodies and lyrics take me to faraway, thoughtful, and lovely places. And as I do that (which I am doing even as I write this), I already feel less stressed or overwhelmed by all that remains on my platter.
Okay, this is not about music. Not really. Anyway, one person’s Lightfoot is another person’s Ella Fitzgerald, etc. So, who am I to say what you should listen to if you wanted to listen to anything at all? Maybe it’s not drifting away into music that restores you. Maybe you need to watch an old movie or read a new book. When my Mom felt weary, she found calm and renewed strength by cooking. In warm weather, Page finds that by working in her flowers. In cold weather, she finds it by doing Pilates. A friend told me that when he is saddest, he goes to local comedy clubs where he can rediscover the rush of endorphins that come when we laugh. One of my lifelong friends walks quietly in woods along a lake. My brothers-in-law and son-in-law find their Walden by sitting at a river at the foot of a mountain in Virginia. Maybe for you it will be watching sport on TV, going to the theater, or taking in a lecture at Barnes and Noble.
Whatever lowers your blood pressure and elevates your spirit, that can become a kind of prayer for you – a way of allowing God to bring a soothing balm to your soul. To be sure, every day I pray. Every day I read scripture. Every day I meditate. I hope you do the same. That is how I begin my day in order to find the strength to do that which lies at hand. Sometimes for me in the evenings when I need to decompress, however, I require an additional kind of meditating. In my case, it is often the solitude I find in music – especially the music of my youth: Taylor, Mitchell, PP&M, Drifters, Tams, Baez, Dylan, and Lightfoot. Especially Lightfoot.
Whatever we do to grow calm, it will not make the responsibilities or duties that face us go away. But, it will make them easier to bear. Calm spirits are strong spirits. So, find your quiet, healing place. Go there when you need. Stay there as long as it takes. I think God meets us there and holds us close until we are renewed.
I’ve gotta go now. Gordon is singing Looking at the Rain. I don’t want to miss that.