“How long’s it been since you’ve sat in this office?”
“I was last here when mom died. Before that it was when I got married.”
She has been at our church her whole life. Her mom died more than a decade ago. She was married some 30 years ago. I joke that she should come by more often at less momentous occasions. She graces my poor humour with a half-second’s smile.
My office is chock full of books. There are six comfortable chairs. A desk fit for an admiral or a petty dictator.
There is also a table with tissues.
Turns out people cry often when they meet with a pastor. At one point, I counted some eight or nine visitors in a row needed the tissue box. I don’t think it’s me personally . . .
Of course, she apologizes for crying, both in person and afterwards via email. What is it in Anglo-Saxon cultures that we think tears blameworthy? It’s not just her. Most cry and then apologize. I often also joke they should come by sometime for no reason at all, just to chat. That way they, and I, won’t necessarily associate pastoral visits with tears.
One of our youths came into my office once. He looked at all the books, eyes and mouth wide open. “Have you read all of these?” “Some of them twice!” I answer—my typical sleight of hand. He shook his head slightly, backing away. I hurried after him: “but lots I haven’t. See? When I say ‘some of them twice,’ I’m omitting that fact.”
Eugene Peterson writes somewhere that we should call it a pastor’s “study,” not “office.” The latter suggests we’re bureaucrats, functionaries, civil servants. The former says we’re students, disciples. Hence all the books (some read twice!). Even those who cry, who aren’t looking for a library, appreciate that we’ve studied. We have some wisdom to offer that’s older than ourselves, greater than our own mental resources.
The desert fathers talk of a monk reading from the Bible, “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” So he sold the gospel book that he’d just been reading from. He said “I sold the book that told me to sell all I have.” The desert monastics had cells, not offices or studies. They were fleeing from pastoral responsibility to pray full-time. Books in that age were like luxury cars in ours—super expensive, precious, coveted by thieves and braggarts of all kinds. So they were a two-edged sword at best. Books still are that. Tissues are not. Tears are a kind of second baptism, eastern Christianity teaches. They’re good, holy, tender.
But you don’t have to cry to come visit my office. Er, I mean study.