By Rev. Lee Roorda Schott
Stuck with a push-pin on the board behind my computer, I have this poem by Wendell Berry:
Our Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
I read this, and I think, has Wendell Berry been watching me? Because “no longer knowing what to do” feels like business as usual, these days. Because, oh, the pandemic. And America circa 2022. The still and until-who-knows-when pre-separation United Methodist Church. And so forth, and so on.
There are, of course, things I know how to do. Things I do do. Like being ready for worship on Sunday morning. And preparing for meetings. And communicating about various concerns that come up in the life of the church. I get my greeting written for our monthly e-newsletter. Taking the fork I used for lunch back to the kitchen, washing it, and returning it to the drawer where it belongs. These and many more things are all manageable.
But when I survey my to-do list and notice how many things I have let slip, how many weeks I have copied over this or that particular item, I’m all too aware those are the things I don’t know how to do. I have a hunch those are the things that need to happen, to move things forward for use as a church, or for me personally.
When I’m honest with my list-making, I can see that. Day by day, though, my eyes flit past those items until they land on the thing that doesn’t require a ton of thinking.
I can go for weeks at a time without tackling that real work.
Last week I had a conversation with my clergy coach about a priority that was important, and clear as day to me last fall, but it got totally dislodged for me around the start of the new year. It has been sitting there, on my list, for months. When pressed I was able to articulate the reasons, which aren’t completely irrational. But the delay is vexing. “Baffling,” to use Wendell Barry’s pithy word.
It’s why I need Berry’s wisdom. He reminds me that not knowing isn’t a crisis; it’s a clue. Those things—the ones I don’t know how to do but put them on my list anyway—must be ones I’m feeling a call to pursue, or else they wouldn’t be there. (Or else I’ve become really sloppy in my planning, which is a different problem worth noticing.)
What if he’s right—that when we follow that thread, there will be singing?
I’d say more about this, but I’ll stop here so both I and you can finish this activity that we know how to do and delve into one that we don’t.
I can’t wait to hear those new tunes that have been waiting to burst forth.