Do you know that person? The one who approaches you at the busiest time of the year, whether you’re a pastor, elder, volunteer, or teacher, and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking about “x, y, and z” for a few months, but I need to talk to you now, because I’d like to get this moving/done/on the calendar before Christmas.” That person? I do.
And guess what my gracious response has been to that person? (In my head, anyway.) Thoughts something like this, whether I end up doing the thing or not: “Really, you’re coming to me NOW, after all this time, at my busiest time of year when I can’t even . . . (insert indignant sputtering here) . . . . and you’re feeling urgent?! No. Sorry. (Not sorry) Too bad. Nope. No way.
And then, December came. And something became very clear. I had been pondering for months, but as my discernment went on, it became clear that the time was now, and I needed advice, a meeting, and a phone call. At Christmas. From other pastors.
Ugh. I was that person, the one I criticized so freely in my heart. The one who had a need at an inopportune time. The one who had to ask for help.
A friend and I walk our little dogs on a path in Beacon, and we meet lots of friendly people, and dogs, along the way. But there’s one guy, a runner, who has made his distaste evident for those of us spread out along the trail. The other day, we were passing under a railroad trestle, and he came around a blind corner at full speed and had to stop short to avoid tripping over a dog. He stopped, glared at us as we passed by, then hauled back, and hocked a lugey into the weeds. For those of you who don’t know any twelve year old boys, this is the vernacular for spitting. He spat aggressively. He spat pointedly, and even though it wasn’t aimed at us, we got the message. “Disgusting!” we said. “What is wrong with him?” we wondered. This is a walking path, not his private racetrack with us as annoying obstacles to be gotten around!
And then, December came. In a hurry, I drove the familiar road to church when a car pulled out ahead. I slowed down. A little. The car ahead slowed even more; I could see the driver busy looking at a boat on the river. When the passing lane was clear, I zoomed out and passed, like a racecar at the Indy 500. It felt that way, too, as I thought, “This is not your own private racetrack! Other drivers are not obstacles in your way!”
Oops. I was that person. The one who treated others as less than because my own agenda was so important. The one who could not slow down enough to look at a beautiful river.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, writes, “There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.”
In this season of Advent, I reflect on the God who comes, who loves us so completely that the Divine takes on our fragile, flawed flesh. Who says to us, “I am,” and becomes that, us.
Jesus, born human, who inhabits a body. I wonder if when his feet hurt or his belly rumbled with hunger or when he was getting annoyed by his disciples said, “Ah, I am that.”
And I wonder, too, in our best moments, the moments of generosity and kindness and compassion, if we can recognize the Christ in us and say, “Ah, I am that, too.”
It seems to me that this is the point. That Advent begins once again the journey of realization that there is no separation between us and the God of love. That the interconnectedness of grace is flowing in and through and around us all.
I will see you on the trail. I will meet you on the road. And may we recognize each other, and smile.
Leslie Mott, M. Div., RYT, received her Master s from Princeton Theological Seminary and has served communities of faith as teacher, chaplain, counselor, retreat leader, pastor and director. She is the pastor of “The Church of the Open Door,” (The First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown) in Cold Spring, NY, where she has served for 12 years.
As a Spiritual Director, Leslie sees clientele privately and also works with groups. Leslie is especially interested in working with those in the “helping professions”: clergy, social workers, health care practitioners and counselors. She received her certification through the Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinecliff, NY, and is a member of Spiritual Directors International.
As an instructor at Living Yoga Studios, Leslie is certified RYT 200 by the Yoga Alliance and teaches four classes a week in Cold Spring, NY. She is affiliated with Yoga Across America, a non-profit that seeks to bring yoga to underserved populations. Additionally, she teaches privately to those wishing individual instruction.