Joy through Togetherness

My father lent me the book The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams, a series of interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I’m about a third of the way through it right now, and I’m finding it to be excellent. Here is a paragraph that especially spoke to me today:

“What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” the Archbishop added, “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others. You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face – together.

These two great spiritual leaders also discussed that this connection isn’t just about sharing sorrows, but about reaching out and sharing generously with one another. They say that joy is found, paradoxically, through giving it away. This discussion of meaning and joy through connection is resonating with a lot of other things I’ve been reading lately, as well as things I’ve learned over the years. Also, it seems to be a good description of the blessings of support groups. Between the support groups I’ve been attending, and reaching out to a lot of old friends, I have found this to be a source of comfort and hope these past weeks.

I have also found this blog to be a source of comfort. I set myself a goal at the beginning of this medical leave…either journal or blog every day. I’ve been pretty good about it…I’ve probably succeeded at least 80% of the time. I’m surprised how much of it has been blogging, and how relatively little has been journaling. I’m doing a lot of this work in the open, inviting you to participate, and I’m heartened at the response I’ve received from so many of you. Thank you.

Interestingly, the place my mind went with this was to consider how I might do my job differently when I return in seven weeks or so. How I might be a different sort of pastor to what I’d been in the past. How might I nurture that sort of “togetherness” (ubuntu, as Archbishop Tutu calls it) in my congregation? How might this be something I need in order to continue to be a pastor, and how might it be something helpful and holy for the congregation? My initial thoughts involve sharing my ministry with others. Perhaps there is very little that I do that I need to do alone.

I already do this in a few ways. I am in continual email contact with our pastoral assistant and three lay volunteers, regarding pastoral care issues. When someone goes in the hospital or is in some other pastoral need, the five of us coordinate our visits and other ministries. This has been a very good thing, I think, for the person in the hospital, for me, and for the volunteers. I wonder if it might be wise to have a group of people whom I could meet with, either in person or via email, to discuss congregational conflict issues regularly. Instead of treating them like an emergency fire to be put out, perhaps it can be an ongoing discussion, with a team deciding how to deal with whatever conflict seems to be occurring.

I also meet regularly with a group of people within the congregation who together study the readings for the upcoming Sunday. There are a number of good things that come from this “Dwelling in the Word” group, and among them is an idea of where I might go with the following Sunday’s sermon. They help me to get a “perspective from the pews” on the readings. I wonder if it might be wise to also have a method to invite people to respond to my sermons after the fact…perhaps a handful of people who are invited to meet with me each Monday, perhaps a group that changes monthly? Or perhaps it could just be a feedback form a few trusted people are invited to fill out. I’m not sure.

I’m almost halfway through this medical leave, so I suppose this is the right time to start considering thoughts like this, the right time to just begin thinking about how I might make re-entry work. It’s not time to plan for that yet…that will come. But it’s good to start batting ideas around, I think.

Tomorrow, snow day. Lots of opportunities to keep my eyes and mind open.


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