Reflections of a poet, preacher, and contemplative activist

Keep the Flame Lit

“What nourishes your spirit?”

Sounds like a reasonable question for someone like myself who is called, ordained, appointed and paid to be a spiritual leader within the United Methodist Church, don’t you think?

My spiritual director Donna asked me this question yesterday when we met. My tiredness was apparent. I know I sounded discouraged. There is always more work to be done in pastoral ministry than there are hours in the day. The need for congregational renewal is real and pressing. There is no time to waste!

Yet time is the very element of life that I need to redirect toward the nourishment of my own spirit if I am to be the kind of spiritual leader who can assist others in living out their faith in hopeful and life-affirming ways.

Intellectually I know this, but the demands of ministry frequently push me to neglect my own spiritual wellbeing. Before I know it I am depleted, and my sense of joy vanishes into thin air.

“What nourishes my spirit?”

It’s as though I need to continually ask myself this question, and remind myself of the consequences if I don’t ask it, because I am terribly self-forgetful. My memory functions reasonably well in most areas of life, but when it comes to caring for my own spirit – my own soulful being – I am often blinded by what I must try to accomplish and I tend to ignore the warning signs of spiritual or emotional fatigue. Before long I’m wondering if I can get through the day or the week, much less the season or the year.

So to answer the question – I am nourished by real relationships with other human beings who risk vulnerability with me. I am nourished by nature’s astounding beauty. I am nourished by exceptional literature, especially poetry. I am nourished by the art of arranging words in ways that reveal who you and I are as beloved children of God.

Thirty-three years ago as a college student considering that God might be calling me to pastoral ministry, I preached my first sermon in my home church on a text from Paul’s letter to Timothy. There Paul advises his young apprentice “to rekindle the gift of God that is within you” and reminds him that “God does not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

I reclaim these words for myself today, as I seek to rekindle the gift of God that is within me. The light of Christ shines through people – imperfect, broken down people like me – to illumine the world with God’s grace and love.

I must do my best to keep the flame lit!

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  1. Jeff Ward

    Pastor Mark,
    This has brought some insight to me, I too find myself giving so much that I forget
    to (fill-up) that empty space if you will, I find that contemporary christian music feels
    that as well as connecting with friends and family. I thought it was just me, you do have
    a way of shining.

    Have a God Blessed Day,


  2. April

    Excellent entry. I am asking myself the same question in this way, “How is it with my soul today?” I like the way you put it as well.

    • Thanks, April. Soul-care is what you and I both have in mind. Important stuff, especially in the midst of ministry. Peace, Mark

  3. Jana Schofield

    Mark – thanks for leaving a comment on our blog – how amazing that we’re now living where you came from! It truly is a beautiful place…that nourishes our spirit. Thank you for your beautiful writing and for letting us know your connection to the Pacific NW! Blessings, Jana

    • Thanks, Jana. I look forward to seeing more photos on your blog. One thing I don’t think I mentioned in my comment to you is that I climbed to the top of Mt. Baker with a friend and an experienced guide we knew about thirty years ago. Wow! What an amazing and exhilarating panorama that was. Peace, Mark

  4. That you find time at all for blogging is amazing, and a blessing for all of us who follow. As I’ve mentioned before (although that feels ironic somehow, considering this is a post from last January!) your sharing online here helps me immensely and makes up for the fact that although I may live relatively near the west coast, I reside so far north as to make visits to your church impossible (until my husband and I plan a trip to California that is). So thank you very much for carving out the time, whenever you can, to share of yourself on this important blog.
    Blessings, Gina

    • Oops… I had been reading through and enjoying your January posts and just noticed this one is actually from February. But you know what I mean ;)

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