… and Father.
The night before my meeting with Pastor Mark I was contemplating what things I might say or ask the busy man in our short time together and then I thought, “What am I trying to get out of this?”
That was problematic. The fact that I was thinking selfishly told me more than anything else.
He had invited me to catch up over a cup of coffee after reading one of my articles on Medium.
The entire church community had been a support system for my family during hard times, and I was more than honored by the invitation. Maybe he would let me treat him, and not be too insulted by such an underwhelmingly meager thank you.
Someone wants to know how I am doing? Or maybe it’s just he wants to know what I am doing. What am I planning... What upgrades have I made to the navigational system of the ship called family over the course of the recent year?
It was funny. A lot of important people had been making this inquiry of me lately.
The true answer was, nothing much. Besides some inner work I had done under the guidance of a Druid out of New York, really I had made no significant changes to how I was physically operating.
Not that my new keep-calm-and-chive-on attitude wasn’t itself significant, but there still was much work to be done.
I just really had never been sure where to start.
I have no social life besides my family. Guess I am a writer through and through. I observe, then write about it. Mostly lacking any involvement.
My Druidic practice is largely about tackling that shortcoming of mine. Though it has gotten me finally involved with Life, most of my friends are now stationary objects. Rocks, trees, and even the animated ones like spiders don’t really hold great conversations, though they are genuinely insightful!
My Druid mentor had challenged me when he asked me how much practice I had done. I had been corresponding with him through e-mail for years, so he was sure I was very knowledgeable about the spiritual work I showed interest in, but his fear was realized when I admitted that I had done little to no physical work.
And look at me now! For a year, I have been diligent in my pursuit of practice, and it has been fruitful. More solid in my reserve, thankfulness, and patience.
Truthfully, I am hoping my meeting with the Pastor will offer a similar challenge. Because, one thing I am sorely lacking is practice in social outreach and involvement.
Coffee with a friend is like speaking a foreign language at this point. But, I’m just gonna dive in and hope the natives don’t get irritated at my lack of understanding.
How else will I ever learn?
He was sitting at an outside table with a book, scrolling through his cell like any normal human being.
“That’s funny,” I said approaching, “I thought I would try and be the one with the book waiting on you but I can never remember which corner this place is on.”
He greeted me with a Covid friendly fist bump and motioned to the opposite chair.
A few generalities were exchanged, and I remember he told me that he was essentially enjoying a brief interlude of time-off after all of the weekly preparations for Sunday’s services. It was a Thursday, so the simple comment cleared up any misconception that being a Pastor was a one-day a week career.
After a friendly duel of who was paying for the coffee, we each soon had our cappuccinos and were sitting comfortably.
“So where did you learn to write?” he asked.
“Grade school mostly,” I replied. That was an original answer, and as about as truthful as it could get.
“Is anyone in your family artists?”
Now that was a pertinent question. I quaintly rattled off all of the relatives on my mother’s side, as they had all been school teachers, painters, and poets.
“So it’s in your DNA.”
That was also about as good an explanation as any. A bit esoteric, but what should I have expected from another man who has a working relationship with the divine?
“It’s in my DNA,” I agreed.
The sun was rising over the shopping center rooftop at just the angle to be beautiful but not blinding.
I recalled hearing once that if you wish to witness God’s beauty, look to the moon; to witness his power look up to the sun.
“You use to work on an ambulance wasn’t it?” he had just asked. “What do you do now?”
I was beginning to explain that my new job was a lot like Homer Simpson’s, mostly sitting around, when oddly enough, the low roll of an emergency vehicle’s federal Q started whining not far off.
We talked right through while it passed behind me. Old memories die hard.
Funny thing was, I can hardly remember the last time I felt so comfortable.
There was genuine interest in the Pastor, a quality hard to come by today. He took real turns talking and listening. I never had to inquire about his interest in my writing. He offered personal stories openly that I related to on many levels.
There was no agenda. No apparent undermining goal to rescue yet another sheep from the far hems of the flock.
Actually, his main purpose was clear, and he stated it plainly.
“I just wanted to encourage you,” he said. “You have an eye for beauty.”
With that, something else struck me that he said at the start of our meeting. He had told me that his secretary just tells him when and where to show up and that’s all he knows.
Why was I here? I had failed to answer the question the evening earlier.
It was quite simple really; because I had been asked.
I opened up about my true desire that perhaps this social outing would lead to a bit more community involvement and admitted that my closest friends were of the tree and rock variety.
“That’s not a bad thing,” he said.
“Recognizing beauty in those things. They are like signposts. Fingers pointing the way to the Divine.”
He may have actually said Jesus, or God. But what I heard was Divine.
Like he also told me at one point, “Some guys are afraid or angry at God, but they think Jesus is a pretty cool guy, so they start with him.”
I once thought of our relationship to God like candles in the sun. Everyone has a little light, but they think it could never compete with the Lord’s. So, we stay a little far out on the edge of the halo, where we might be seen a little clearer.
But everyone eventually finds their way home.
I guess I’m starting with rocks.
I was in the presence of another artist. A man who also sees beauty. He tears up at song, and inspires thousands of people with his work.
What I was genuinely interested in asking from the moment I saw him was what it was he was reading. The conversation hadn’t yet lulled long enough to bring it up, when he pushed it to me.
“This guy’s writing reminded me of how you see things and I thought you may like reading it.” Henri J.M. Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love.
I was whole-heartedly surprised and thankful. I told him that I had been busy muscling my way through Tolstoy’s War and Peace and could use some respite.
“Jeesh, I couldn’t do it,” he said, “I can only do those smaller books and sometimes wonder why everyone can’t get their point across in fewer words.”
“Now that is a good point,” I said. Secretly, it had been something I was getting better at in my writing. And I could only imagine it was something he was a already a pro at; keeping heads from nodding on pews for decades.
After we prayed, You could hear the sound of rod iron chair legs on concrete when we stood up.
Our exact parting words are still a bit of a blur, though I do recall him telling me that Psalm One had my name written all over it.
“Ruminate on that one a little bit,” he advised. As I had told him that was when I did all my learning; while writing.
“Come see me after service on Sunday. I have another book for you,” he offered.
“If you’re looking, you can find me in my office.”
I got into my minivan and closed the door. I leaned back in my seat and opened the cover of the little book he’d given me.
Inside he had left a personal note:
To Jay- for your poetic heart!
It kinda made me tear up a bit. You know, they used to call poets Bards back in the days of King Arthur and Merlyn.
So, if you’re looking, you can find me, I thought.
Out there circling on the hem of God’s corona. Inching closer, little by little, like a planet around the Sun. All but too fearless to dive right in, and get burned up on re-entry.
Though, a good man once said,
“There are two kinds of fire. The kind that burns, and the kind that cleanses.”
… and we share a few tears together when God whispers through time,
“Dive in, the fire’s fine.”
Jay Horne is an author and publisher out of Bradenton, Florida. He is a husband and father of four.
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