“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
I came into ministry with a passion to save the world, or at least as many as I could save of those in the world. I was convinced that knowing Christ made a difference both in this life and in the next, and it was my motivation in life to bring others to that saving knowledge. I wanted so badly to save people. I grew tired of this, however. I learned people don’t always want to be saved and I learned I was not very good at it, and I realized that often-times (most times) God is already at work long before I showed up. It didn’t bring out the best in me; it made me a poor listener. I always knew where the conversation needed to go, rather than just letting the conversation go where it would. I was not able to hear whatever needed to be said. It turns out, I’ve become a much better pastor having let go of the need to save.
I want to read now. I spend countless hours with books, and I can’t get enough. I want to listen to your stories. I want to fly fish, to watch the water, to change my fly thirteen times in order to find the right one to get that big trout to rise to it. I want to set art next to poetry next to scripture, and see what percolates. Ever since I let go of saving people and starting listening and being present to myself, others, nature, and God, more, I have resonated with this line by E.B. White. I feel the tension. I feel the tension because I still think knowing that you are loved and forgiven makes a difference. I still believe reaching into another person’s world with hope matters. But I do so much better; we do so much better when we are able to be present without trying to save or solve another’s problems; if we can savor the story, savor the beauty, be present to the pain, and to see what rises.
I have started to wonder, however, if there needs to be so much of a tension. Can our savoring of the beauty and mystery of God’s world and our journeys with God generate life-altering effects? Maybe the feeling of salvation or possibility for redemption comes from being heard, from listening to one another, from being known and knowing. What if beholding the beauty and mystery opens us up to more redemptive ways of being in the world.
The above quote of E.B. White came in an interview with a reporter. He followed it by saying: “But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.” I wonder if part of what we do in worship is to savor – to encounter the Lord through music, word, image, each other, scripture text and sermon – to encounter something of beauty and mystery. Perhaps only when we have encountered the beauty of God will we exude something life-giving, even life-altering to others. Yes, I wonder if the savoring is not essential to the saving, maybe even how it comes about. Maybe there isn’t a tension there as much as I have deemed for years. Maybe it is the tension in us, that I have felt, the inclination to save, the desire to change others, maybe even change ourselves. But transformation comes first through encounter – encounter with a God of love and mystery and beauty.