I am not a faithful runner, unless faithfulness falls somewhere between regular and infrequent. Since college, I’ve tried to run once a week, which is less than I wish and more than I might. But I’ve decided to increase that frequency this summer. I’m always in better spirits when I’ve run (Dan has learned this and encourages me to go running when he can tell it’d do me good), and the discipline serves me well.
I’m a person who needs discipline, which makes the pastoral life a strange fit. Some structure is imposed on a pastor’s week—standing meetings and sick parishioners calling for prayer at unusual hours and, of course, the perpetual cycle of Sundays—but for the most part, a pastor has an open calendar and has to fill it in.
This requires either extraordinary self-discipline or a high tolerance for that sense of never quite knowing what you should be doing. I’ve learned that I don’t do well with the latter—I feel perpetually lost and rarely accomplish what I need to. So I’m honing my time-management skills: I’ve made a weekly a to-do list and have blocked out time on my calendar for certain tasks. I try to remind myself that it’s only a vague sketch of my week and that I don’t have to keep it too strictly, but I don’t want to neglect anything or anyone nor do I want to while away my time and wonder where it went.
Thankfully, Jon richly envisions the pastoral life, incorporating both work and rest, public and private, spiritual and material, into the pastor’s schedule. He encourages us to think of our work in a flexible way, not necessarily keeping regular hours in the office if reading and memorizing out on the bluff would be better for our spirit. Since pastors obviously don’t have Sundays free, Jon insists that everyone on staff take a full day off each week. (“Call it your day off, call it your family day, call it Sabbath, call it whatever you like—just take a day off!” he says.) So we do. Many of the photos on this blog come from just such days.
Another thing Jon asks of us while we’re here is to commit to a spiritual discipline—prayer, meditation, or fasting, for example. Like other “public” occupations, the work of a pastor can too easily be reduced to its visible activities: preaching, leading meetings, and visiting the people of the church. Those sorts of things are definitive of pastoral work, yes, but they can’t be sustained without soul work.
As a staff, we’re reading Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles, which maintains that pastors need to cultivate an attention to God in themselves (prayer), in the history of Israel and the church (reading Scripture), and in others (spiritual direction). That attention doesn’t come easily or naturally, and it requires discipline. “The fact is,” writes Peterson, “that no one has an aptitude for it. It is hard work. It is unglamorous work.” But the discipline, like that of an athlete, pays off. It is rewarded with a trained eye for the hand of God, a limber spirit able to weather storms of the soul (both its own and others’), and a fluency in the ways of God.
To that end, I am memorizing a handful of psalms over the course of the summer. I write a shorthand version on the back of my hand in pen, tie my shoes, and take off running for Ala Spit. It’s two miles and two serious hills away, which makes it feel like a much longer route. The distance gives just enough time to learn a passage of Scripture so that I can recite it from memory. Some of the psalms will be recited in worship, or will become the seed of a prayer, but many of them will simply feed my soul in a way that only the word of God can. For several years now, I have found that the rhythm of running and the rhythm of internalizing Scripture make a good pair, and the discipline required for one reinforces the discipline required for the other.
[About a third of the way down, just right of center, you can see a skinny strip of land poking out into the water. That’s Ala Spit. It’s pointing at Hope Island, the largest of the three islands in Skagit Bay.]
These runs have also become a source of delight and discovery. Did you know that the road is lined by blackberry bushes, which I intend to pick clean and whose ripe jewels I intend to bake into pies? Have you seen a pair of wet black slugs, their bodies half smooth and half rippled and rough? Do you know the feeling of coming around a corner at the crest of a hill and being blasted with the sight of Hope Island set in the middle of Skagit Bay? Hope, indeed—this place is beautiful.
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised.