It’s a long ways, she said. I know it’s a lot to ask. And when I sat down with her today, she handed me a map, copied from a standard atlas. Roads and highways that I’ve come to know, numbers and directions that are being written on my heart in ways that I never would have expected. Stapled to the back of that sheet, which would be available to anyone, was another map. Closer in detail, and seemingly hand-drawn, though that would surprise me, the map showed acreage and owners, creeks (or cricks) and stands of trees.
I would be honored to stand at the graveside, to pour dirt on the casket, to pray for commendation, and to be present as you say your farewells. I would be honored to walk with you, my heels sinking into the rich dirt of this corner set aside for a place of remembrance and holiness. I would be honored to sit and hear you tell stories, to hear your laughter and see your tears, to learn about this man whom you loved, whom you still, will always love, to discover anew what he was all about – service and people, reaching out to those whom he did not know, making a difference with all he knew.
This thing that we do, as pastors, is exhausting and untimely. It’s messy and yucky, and we try to move between bedside and baseball game and babies’ first cries seamlessly. Sometimes that works, and we’re able to slide here and there, filling our wells to drain them into someone else’s. I speak in metaphor and idea; I ponder and reflect and ask “good questions” and at the end of the day, the quiet of the night, with only the tip-tip-clack of nails on keyboard, I wonder if any of it matters. If any of it makes a difference. And I know, really, that it does. That this is belief and faith; that this life (mine, that of a pastor, yours) is all about moving from this thing to that one, about shifting from one to the other and being honored to simply be part.
I’m tired today, and that’s OK. These days have been full of the things that make up life – games and conversations, hands reached out over tables and across chairs in family waiting rooms, heads bowed in prayer and thrown back in laughter. The sun has shone down, making hair warm and brows sweaty, stirring seeds deep in the earth, calling, “Come out! Come out!”
In a couple of days I will drive a couple of hours, probably more with construction and traffic, and when I get there, it will be holy ground: green studded with marble and granite, surrounded by those open-country sounds of early summer, cows and tractors, big trucks and cars on dirt roads. These are not roads I have traveled before, but in the ways of heritage, they are already written in my heart. We will open the earth, speak words and read prayers, we will lift our hearts and commend, and it won’t be far at all.