I just led what I considered to be a solidly mediocre Maundy Thursday service.
Nothing was wrong with it, mind you. It had all the elements of Maundy Thursday: scripture, moving music, singing, communion, departing in silence. But it lacked some x-factor of worshipful panache that I was looking to create.
Surprisingly, I don't feel overly disappointed about it. But I am sitting here in my office wondering how I can learn from this and remembering an important lesson which has been a difficult one for me to absorb in ministry: they're not all pastors.
I am a pastor. Which has all its own issues and idiosyncratic things about it. But one thing that is likely true is that I was drawn to this vocation because of something meaningful I personally experienced in the realm of religious life. But not everyone who goes to church or who practices a religion pursues a religious vocation. Only some of us do. So I am forced to believe that there must have been something about me that made me more open to spiritual formation than another person might have been. I don't think it would be going to far to say that many pastors are drawn into this work because we are predisposed somehow to having a spiritual imagination.*
What I am working to appreciate right now in ministry is that not everyone has this. In fact, I would surmise that most of the folks sitting in the pew have imaginations of different sorts than my own. Some may be like me, but many are not. And it is a huge challenge to consider how I am to inspire them, to form them, to challenge them, without understanding what it is like to be them, in a spiritual sense. Should I lay it on extra thick? Go completely over the top in terms of input and stimulation in order to get their attention**? Or are there ways I can play off of or reflect on my own experience that can help draw others into it? Should I rely on the strength and duration of my tradition, believing that the communality of our liturgy has power over and above what we give to it in this moment alone?***
Another, scarier question, and this is meant with the utmost sincerity, does it even matter? I mean, if I should report for duty on a major religious holiday and not feel moved in the ground of my being by what takes place there, I might feel deprived and disappointed. But those are the types of experience that carry meaning for me and that I need to keep inspired. If I didn't look there for my spiritual nourishment, or if I didn't need more spiritual nourishment than those around me, how would I see things differently? What would be important to me when I came to worship?
Maybe this is all in my head. But there are days when I long for the insulated cocoon of seminary, where other people who imagined like I do got together to worship in creative ways and felt awed (perhaps arrogantly so) by their own ability to create engaging and meaningful rituals, completely unaware of (or even disinterested in?) in the folks outside who pass by, absorbed in their own imaginations, unaware that today was Thursday.
*Some believe that we were drawn to this profession in order to work out our issues or complexes, which may also be true. But doesn't "pre-disposed to spiritual imagination" sound so much better?
**This seems to be the strategy of many part of the evangelical tradition, and it seems to have worked in many cases, though I question the depth of its formation.
*** This is where I think the Roman Catholics are RIGHT ON. I am looking to learn more from their wisdom in this regard....