In Idabel, I loved walking among the trees near my home. Tall
pines felt like older siblings watching over me as I walked on a carpet of needles
and cones. At the right time of year,
pecan trees left a snack on the ground for me to munch. Others offered full leaves to shade me in the
summer and dazzle me with their colors in the fall. In the winter, they showed their bare forms
like not so shy maidens disrobed for their men’s admiration. In the spring they
garbed themselves with colored blossoms.
I lived among trees when I was a child but was soon taken
to live in the plains, where I spent most of my life. Once I was back with them
I realized how much I missed them.
In the politics of my southern culture, “tree hugger” is
a disparaging term, but I think I really am one of those people. I know for
sure that trees have held and hugged me.
When I was little, I would play among them and climb into the crook of my
favorite to read a book.
photo by D. Mercer
What if all things, animate and otherwise, are connected
spiritually? Science tells us that there is a constant exchange of atoms and molecules
in which we all participate, sharing unseen particles with each other right now
as well as with those of the past and future. What if connection goes even
deeper than that and we are actually a part of each other? I may walk among
trees, but I am also a part of the trees and the trees are a part of me. Jesus once prayed for oneness: “I in thee, and
thee in me, and they in us.” Would that oneness include not only persons but
also the trees, soil, air, sea, and stars?
It’s such a great thought and I love entertaining it. But
if it’s true, why do we get so lonely? Is it possible to simply change our
state of awareness so we can enjoy oneness with everything?
In my journals which I've written all my adult life, one of the things I said repeatedly since the beginning is how lonely I was.
If I was once your minister, please don’t feel guilty.
You didn’t know and you didn’t cause this. I’m telling it now because I hurt people
when I left the ministry and I feel that I owe them some explanation. Also, perhaps it will help people understand
the systemic problems of church that cause pastors to be lonely. Believe me,
I’m not the only pastor who feels this way.
First, we have to move frequently. We don’t have
time to form bonds and if we do, we have to leave them behind when we go to the next assignment.
Second, small town pastors are always outsiders. We didn’t
grow up with you. We don’t share your history. We’re not your family. If you
are nice enough to invite us to your house during family gatherings at holidays,
we’re uncomfortable. Additionally, we often don't have the time or resources to visit our own families.
Third, it costs too much to be friends with the pastor. If you
had tried to get close to me you might have gotten hurt by church politics. Someday I’ll write at length about that but for now I’ll just say that most of the few friends I’ve made along the
way… they don’t go to church anymore.
I always said that loneliness is just part of the
job that a minister endures. But as I got older I became
unhappier and lonelier, and I just couldn't endure it anymore.
I had no one to talk to. Every week, sometimes twice a
week, I slipped away to talk to a counselor, which helped a lot but not enough
to make up for the isolation. I couldn’t
tell anyone of my personal problems. I couldn’t talk about my theological
struggles. I couldn’t talk about my problems at work.