A dry and desiccated spirit

Something has happened to me over the last several months. I seem to have lost my voice.

The campaign, the election, the painful period between election and inauguration, and now the first stumbling weeks of a new administration – in it all, I seem to have lost my ability to speak. I still preach most Sundays at my church in Zurich, so it’s not that voice that seems to have gone away. It’s something else.

I still look at Facebook each day and see the anger and outrage from my friends, though I’m not sure why I bother to look. I sometimes “like,” seldom “comment,” and never “share.” I have been urged by friends and colleagues to call and write and march. A family member wrote not long ago and asked me to use my position – my “pastoral authority,” as she put it – to address the situation, and I think I have, a little, but not as she would like me to do it. I watch the news – CNN and BBC are the English-language choices where I live – and I rarely like what I see. I can get as worked up as anyone over “alternative facts” and a lot more.

But I have grown quiet instead. Not withdrawn, still. I hear that the future of the republic is at stake – and that may well be true – but I have surprised myself by saying nothing at all, turning inward, even finding peace there.

Among other things, I have started reading again. I sit quietly in the morning while it is still dark and read. I read late at night and turn off the light, reluctantly, wishing I could go on. I even read on the Stairmaster at the gym.

I haven’t had much time for reading over the last few years. I had a new language to learn – remember? – and that was more difficult than I imagined. And then there was that book I decided to write, something about the multicultural church. So all of that, plus my work, left little time for reading, something I have always loved.

I started with biographies. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow got me going, maybe it was the musical, but then I had to read John Quincy Adams: American Visionary and American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House as well. You can’t believe how rocky things were back then at the founding of the republic. I read a book by a dear friend who does what I do, except in Rabat, Morocco – A Guide to International Church Ministry: Pastoring a Parade. I read a book by a classmate who hiked the Camino di Santiago recently – Walking in Love – and had tears in my eyes when I put it down. I read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, because I heard Terry Gross interview the author on “Fresh Air” and thought he might help me understand what’s happening in the U.S. He didn’t.

And now I’ve even rediscovered theology, starting with Dallas Willard’s fine The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, which is about apologetics, of all things, something I have never been all that interested in. Just now I finished Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. I should have something to say on Good Friday.

Reading, I would say, has lessened my need to speak. I may speak again one day, but I don’t feel the need right now. I feel the need to replenish a spirit that has become dry and desiccated.

I am breathing again too.

About Doug

I’ve been a writer ever since I won second prize in a fifth grade “prose and poetry” contest. I’m also a Presbyterian pastor, and I’ve served churches in New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, and Florida. Today I am pastor of the International Protestant Church of Zürich, Switzerland.

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13 Responses to A dry and desiccated spirit

  1. Linda Strodtman February 4, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    Thanks for sharing about how you are coping with an unbelievable time in our lives. Everyone needs to find peace somehow–besides reading–sewing is where I go. I’m about to put a saying up on the wall where I sew that says “Sewing mends the soul”. I think it is because I can be in a place to find my inner soul and to re-center and it is peaceful. Grace and peace to all during this time.

  2. blairblog1 February 4, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    thanks for the great book list!

    • Doug February 5, 2017 at 1:42 am #

      If you don’t find yourself wanting to walk the Camino after reading Roy Howard’s book, then … I don’t know. It’s very moving.

  3. Linda Strodtman February 4, 2017 at 9:03 am #

    Another great read is, Cokie Roberts, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.

    • Doug February 5, 2017 at 1:41 am #

      Thanks, Linda. Was impressed with her when she spoke at Calvin’s January Series a few years ago.

  4. Sandra Steffen February 4, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    Well said as always Doug!! Thank You!! Our best to you & Susan and safe travels to the states to meet your new grand baby!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! Sandy

    • Doug February 5, 2017 at 1:44 am #

      Thanks, Sandy!

  5. Mark Vermaire February 4, 2017 at 11:38 am #

    Perhaps our similar callings and contexts shape this “silence,” but I, too, have experienced much the same. Here in The Hague, I’m giving up most news–I’m tired of CNN going on and on, and, with the BBC, too, it sometimes seems so total (well, not truly) and discouraging (if you get stuck there).
    So I’ve been reading more, too. I’ve found an even darker book surprisingly insightful and encouraging because I see we’re caught in what always has been and always will be, until…. The book: “Symphony for the City of the Dead.” And when I’m not reading, I listen to Shostakovich’s 7th. Music, with reading, is a remarkable gift to the mind and spirit.
    Thanks for writing, Doug! I much appreciate it!

    • Doug February 5, 2017 at 1:41 am #

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mark – and thanks for the suggestion for further reading!

  6. Marion Robbins February 5, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    Never one to silence my own voice…..but this time I gave my ‘voice’ to a dear friend who marched in D.C. carrying a sign which read: “Today I march for Marion and her mother.”
    A heartfelt message which, for a brief moment, left me too emotional to speak!

    • karen parkinson, wheaton February 6, 2017 at 10:49 am #

      Doug,
      Thank you for your Blog today, I have been missing it through the month of January. It bought tears to my eyes when I read that you and Ericka has corresponded. In the absence of your Blog I have been reading Wil Willimon. Thank you for the reading list. I just finished 2 books by Phyllis Tickle and look forward to Dietrich Bonhoefer’s book Christ at the Center. It will be my Valentine gift to me.
      Karen Parkinson, Wheaton

      • Doug February 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

        Oh my, Karen. I had no idea you were such a theological reader! I need to get back to Bonhoeffer now that I live in his backyard. It was wonderful to exchange email with Ericka. I wish we did that more often. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • Doug February 6, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

      Beautiful!

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