Forty Years

by Paul Hooker

Today is the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament (or “Ministry of the Word” as we called it then in the old PCUS). Rather than pride, I am mainly surprised I am still here.

I’ve been thinking lately about the church, aware that the church I serve is not the church I intended to serve, nor would have chosen to serve if I could have predicted the future. That’s just as well. That church belonged to the past. The jury is still out on the question of whether I belong in the future.

I have been inventorying my theological commitments of late, and fewer of them than I thought “bring me joy.” More than a few notions that used to be central confessional commitments now seem, at best, adiaphora, or at worst, irrelevant. I don’t care much who is saved or who isn’t, or if anybody is or isn’t. I don’t know (and don’t particularly care) whether Christ was two natures in one person, and certainly don’t understand the mechanics of such metaphysics. I don’t know whether God’s eye is on the sparrow, but I have the creeping sense he isn’t watching me. I don’t doubt the reality of God, but I also don’t trust that God is in any meaningful way “personal” (let alone that “Jesus is my personal savior”). Curiously, I am daily more convinced that John Leith was right when he taught us about the persistence of sin in the life of the redeemed. Or at least about the persistence of sin part.

I enjoy the struggle to answer disputed questions, more for the dispute than for the answers.

Poetry has given me language that could never be spoken on the floor of a presbytery in an ordination examination, though perhaps it should have been. It has made me want to say the unsayable. It continually surprises me to discover through it what I trust and what I don’t. It has also deepened in me the yearning to come to font and table, to approach the ineffable by way of the tactile reality of water, bread, and wine. It is the rock in the darkness, the first and final thing I “believe.”

I find myself preferring silence to the noise of public prayers (including my own), singing to speaking, and solitude to the company of assemblies. Reading Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens of a morning on the back porch, teacup on the table beside me, seems to me an act of worship. Working the Times crossword puzzle is a spiritual discipline.

I no longer care if I contradict myself.

Like Pilate, I wonder what is “Truth,” or if it should ever be capitalized.

That said, I am not quite yet ready for the glue factory. There are more questions to ask, more classes to teach, more sermons to preach (although I can’t imagine why anyone would want to listen), and more poems to write. There are students who still need something I have to offer (I think), and I still have energy to offer it. I am still enthralled by the possibilities of wonder and mystery.

And I am still here.