Montreat and Jayber Crow

          Last week Beverley, our girls, and I attended the Montreat Conference on Worship and Music.  This was our 18th year attending this conference, and from our first trip it has always been a spiritual highlight of our year.  This year the conference theme was centered around the line from How Great Thou Art “Then Sings My Soul,” and everything revolved around this familiar line.  I attended Bible studies focused on missions and evangelism, a daily lecture on preaching.  Beverley attended offerings for musicians, sang in a choir that rehearsed twice daily, handbell choir, and a daily hymnology lecture.  My family worshiped together each day, hiked in the afternoons, and rested.  It is a great week, and the chance for Beverley and me to be worshipers instead of worship leaders nourishes our souls.
            Several years ago, I also decided to set aside the week to read more than I usually do.  I started working through my reading list while Beverley and I were at Eagle Eyrie at Passport Kids Camp the week before.  I read Robert Jones’s eye-opening The End of White Christian America, started working through John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, and re-read Learning to Breathe Under Water by Richard Rohr.  My favorite, and I didn’t finish it until this past Saturday, is Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow.  Jayber (his given name is Jonah, Jayber is short for his nickname, Jaybird) Crow is the barber in the fictional town of Port William, KY, who sensed a call to ministry early in his life but then dropped out of seminary because he had too many questions that in his mind couldn’t be answered.  He ended up being the town’s barber and farmer.  In Jayber Crow Berry argues for a simple life lived within one’s means and a life lived close to the land.  He stressed the importance of simplicity, community, hard work, and caring for each other.
            After two weeks of Passport Camp, Montreat Worship and Music, and several books, I come away with several realizations about my life as a Christian (and maybe as a pastor).  First, I am convinced that I should spend more time in prayer.  I am like everyone else: very busy.  It is easy in the business of family and church to neglect quiet time in meditation, prayer and scripture reading.  When I get away for these spiritual times I am reminded of how important daily prayer and meditation is for my faith.
            Second, I am reminded that I need more time(s) of Sabbath rest.  Maybe you have noticed that I take (nearly) all my vacation time in the summer.  From September through early June I find it very difficult to be away, but I find myself nearly dried up and worn out at the end of that long stretch.  I need time to be quiet, and listen, and read, and be renewed.
            Third, I am convinced that I must allow God to do His job, and me to do mine.  I like to think that if I have enough time combined with enough effort and enough ingenuity that I can do it all.  I cannot.  But God can.  This is very simple, but sometimes I forget.
            I’m grateful for the week at Passport with the children because it nourishes my soul, and I’m grateful that God has made Montreat a holy place for me and my family.  God truly nourishes our souls and hearts when we draw near to Him, and it is good to live in His presence day by day.