Letting Your Soul Settle: Ellen Blue

Letting your soul settle

Ellen Blue Ph.D.

I tell the seminary students in every class I teach that their primary task as pastors is to stay sane in the pastorate. They laugh, but I’m quick to say, “I’m not kidding.” And those already serving churches attest that it isn’t an easy task.

When one of my husband’s former staff-parish relations committees turned in their annual report to the DS, the first thing on their list of concerns was a desire that he be “more flexible” about a day off. They wrote that if he were “truly dedicated,” he wouldn’t need one every week.

Yes, that says a lot about the congregation. However, it also says a lot about how clergy can over-function and teach congregations to expect it. It says a lot about how we can convince ourselves that real dedication means we don’t need the Sabbath time that Lauren Winner describes.

One day in UMC History class, we discussed a reading about the indefatigable John Wesley’s activity. Later, we mentioned the historic examination for admission into full connection in which we must agree that we will “Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary” (BoD 2008, para. 336). A student raised her hand and observed, “If Wesley were trying to get ordained today, he probably couldn’t pass the psychologicals.”

I really wished I could argue, but she was probably right. John Wesley was a genius, a tremendously gifted theologian, a marvelous example of a Christian committed to being with the people on the margins of society. Over and over, as I teach about his written and lived theology, I say, “He was a man ahead of his time.”

But he did not achieve a happy family life. His late-in-life marriage tanked. Imagining him as a parent is . . . well, let’s just not go there. His journal plainly reveals his daily angst.

Furthermore, we know different things today about mental, emotional and spiritual health. I tell students to remind themselves often, “It is necessary that we stay in one place longer than strictly necessary.” We need to remain long enough to let our souls settle back into our bodies, a process which sometimes involves doing as close as possible to absolutely nothing at all.

One of my Top Ten spiritual experiences was being a guest at Sabbath dinner at the home of the rabbi in Monroe. I’ll write more for the chapter on candle-lighting. Now, I’ll just say that this family’s meal to mark the beginning of sacred time – Shabbat – affected me profoundly. I’m thankful that Lauren has reminded me of just how hungry for Sabbath dinner I really am.

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