I’m happy to be joining the pastoral staff and preaching at Mt. Tamalpais this summer. I’ll introduce myself through a story. A month after I closed out my private practice as a pastoral psychologist the phone rang and an editor with Fortress Press asked me to write a book on trauma. Luckily, I’d quit my usual “day job.”
While writing the book I realized that I had witnessed many kinds of trauma in my years of parish ministry, chaplaincy, and in my work as a therapist. There were people’s stories I not only recorded in my brain, but also in my heart long after my work with them was finished. Among them were a little girl whose social worker came to me so that together we could tell her about her mother’s sudden death, a young man whose girlfriend died after a drug overdose, the parents of wounded soldiers, those who had survived horrendous car accidents and shooting incidents, and many people who were sick and suffering. I was blessed to walk with and support many people, but since I had also taken in their pain, it was time for me to turn my thoughts to joy and pleasure in early retirement. I started by reading The Book of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
In the Buddhist tradition there is a method of prayer called Tonglen. During this practice meditators take in suffering through contemplation and deep breathing. And then, they release this suffering with outward breaths while wishing others great compassion. Jesus had this ability – the word compassion means, “to suffer with,” and he courageously offered himself to the sick of mind, body, or spirit. With his loving approach in my thoughts, I completed the book on trauma, and I opened my heart to the call of God. It came via my colleague and friend Rev. Kim Smith who suggested I come to Mt. Tamalpais for the summer.
I am greatly honored to fill in the very big (not literally) shoes of your pastor Kim. I know how fond you are of her and of her fondness for you. She is very good at caring for others and self-care, but I am happy that she also has this time away for rejuvenation. This is her time for breathing out. This summer she is nurturing her mind, her heart and her soul, and temporarily letting go of her obligations while trusting us to look after the church while she travels.
I look forward to these weeks with you. I know that church leaders and committees also need to take breaks now and then, so we can think of this as “time out” from church goals and plans. Instead, we can come together for renewal and rest as we look to Jesus and God’s word among us. For the month of July, I’ll be reflecting on aspects of trauma from my new book, When Trauma Wounds: Pathways to Healing and Hope (Fortress Press), and then in August we’ll take a look at the history of sex in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Pastor Kim tells me that you love to laugh, and so do I. These sermons on sex are bound to keep us giggling as we reflect about God’s wonderfully made bodies and the gift of love.
See you at church,