Gift of Presence
In social situations I don’t go out of my way to let it be known that I am a minister. It’s not that I am not daily humbled by the honor this congregation has bestowed upon me by calling me its minister. It’s not that I worry people will think I’m strange or out of touch. It’s not even that I feel I need to be on my best behavior. More often, it’s that I feel compelled, when someone knows I am a minister anyway, to speak more freely about what this sacred work has taught me.
As an example, yesterday I was with some friends and the issue of homelessness became part of the conversation. In particular, we discussed issues like mental health and dependence upon drugs and the impact these have on the ability to maintain a home. My friend had already told everyone there that I was a minister when he mentioned I’d performed his wedding.
But when the conversation turned to the ways that dependence on drugs impacts our community, my impulse was to share the realities I have witnessed as a minister. When I was asked my view, I spoke about the Celebration of Life I performed a few years ago for a young man whose childhood and teenage years bore an uncanny resemblance to my own. But I explained that our lives took different paths, with his ending too early at the hands of drugs and alcohol. I also spoke of the morning as a hospital chaplain in Washington State when I had to arrange two separate viewings of two separate bodies for two separate families whose loved ones succumbed ultimately to the perils of drug addiction.
Even as I spoke I knew it was not a cheery subject. I knew it might have scared or upset people. I suspect people might have gone home thinking I should stick to praying for people and cool it with the dramatic stories. But here’s the thing. Prayer is essentially being one’s self in the presence of the divine. And part of the faith many of us share includes belief in the divinity, or at least the sacredness, of those lives we touch with our own.
We bring our whole selves wherever we go. In social situations, we might not always feel compelled or comfortable sharing all of the parts of us—nor should we. But as people, whether through faith, through learning, or through a call to justice making, who have explored and learned a great deal that many others have not, there may come a time when we choose to be ourselves—our whole selves—in the presence of the sacred, the divine. And we should. It is a deeply sacred practice.
When we departed for the evening, on the way out into the night, after hearing me speak of what I’d witnessed, a kind person asked if I would pray for them. And last night before bed, I did. But I wonder if by being myself—my whole self—in his presence for those moments last night, whether I already had.
May it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.