The trouble started some fifteen years earlier with a very specific event—a vision, though I was then too blind to see it as one. There was no ecstatic trance, no audible voice of God. Nor was I knocked off my horse. Rather a slant of light broke through, for just a fleeting moment, and left something of itself within me that’s kept me restless ever since.
Presbyterians gather regularly as pastors and elders of local congregations to worship and pray, deliberate and decide. We eat pie and have our after-the-meeting-parking-lot-meetings where the real business gets talked about. The meetings are mixed with testimonies to the church in mission, periods of haggling over policy matters, arguing the finer points of parliamentary procedure, and all too rarely an honest to goodness theological debate. Much of these gatherings, as you might imagine, is rather dull and tedious. It was during a rather tedious moment that, Stan, a pastor of one of our tall-steepled congregations tried to give a little life to his presentation about recent happenings at one of our conference centers. Our camp and conference centers are often operating on a shoestring budget and in order to keep afloat try all kinds of things to bring in a little revenue. Stan chaired the board of a one of our Presbyterian conference centers, which had recently rented its facility to a Hindu group for a spiritual retreat. Stan was clearly aware that some Presbyterians might wonder why one of our mission organizations had opened its doors to welcome a bunch of Hindus.
After describing the Hindu gathering and the money we’d got hosting them, he told us about the moment when the Hindu leader had introduced him to the Hindu community. “This,” the Hindu had said, “is the Presbyterian holy man.” Telling the story, Stan burst into laughter and said, “Now there’s an oxymoron for you!” And we all laughed, including me. But as I laughed something cut at me, deep within. In that laughter, that nervous dismissal, I felt a wound sliced open, a pain, a longing, a deep dissatisfaction with the bland state of pastoral life that could make us all laugh at holiness. In that moment, a holy light pierced me and called out to me.
I think it was at that very moment that I resolved somewhere deep inside to become a saint, though I didn’t have the foggiest idea how. Sadly, I didn’t know a single person who could show me the way.