I had a conversation recently with a man who is a retired fire fighter. During his career he had been in charge of a fire station. He had loved the life. In certain ways he had been at his best in the times of crisis, when critical decisions had to be made quickly but calmly regarding the deployment of firefighters into a burning house. In less stressful times, this same man had a hard time making a decision about what he wanted to have for dinner.
I found myself identifying with the man. There is a strange rhythm to my life, which reaches its climax each week with Sunday morning. Generally speaking my pastoral work is fairly sedate during the rest of the week. It involves sitting quietly with people in conversation, or sitting quietly by myself writing and planning. Sunday morning, however, brings on an adrenalin rush. I rise early, and after a cup of coffee my mind takes on a sharpness of focus that tends to be missing the rest of the week. I’ve been working on the sermon of and on all week, but inevitably Sunday morning sharpens and deepens what I have to say. I begin to feel “up”, glad to be alive and looking forward to the worship service. (Also, and forgive me if this more information than you wanted, my bowels always move on Sunday morning. Always. Guaranteed.) When I get to church, I am transformed into an extrovert, making contact with person after person. My name recollection faculty is in high gear, amazing everyone, including myself. In the course of the service I often sweat profusely, but I don’t notice this until afterwards when I realize my shirt is soaked.
Following worship my sharpness of mind quickly wanes. If people tell me information I should remember, I need to make a point of writing it down, because otherwise I most likely won’t remember. My mind feels fried. When I finally get home, I am in the post adrenalin state, and I need a nap. When I wake up from the nap I feel somewhat hung over. It is a good time to clean and organize, having inevitably created some messes in my adrenalin motivated, get-ready-to preach mode. My mind in this state has very little capacity to go to any real depth. I will need a full night’s sleep and the quiet of the morning before I’ll have any hope of entering the deep space again.
Throughout my work life, the coming Sunday and the sermon I will have to get ready has tended to hang over me the previous week. Over time, generally speaking, I have become a good deal more relaxed about the whole process, trusting that inspiration will come. I used to really worry about it, with the worry mounting if the week passed without any inspiration appearing. Saturdays could be the worse. Without the adrenalin flowing, decision making was tough. It’s much better now. I think I trust more.
Another way in which my life resembles that of the fireman’s is that my work also involves responding to emergencies that require I suddenly turn on a certain focus and clarity that is impossible to sustain in the mundane times of life. When, for instance, someone dies the pyschic life of the grieving family is suddenly a bit like a burning house.