A friend of mine tells the story of his father, who once rolled a tractor into a ditch and severely injured himself. As his father lay in the ditch, waiting for someone to discover his predicament, he comforted himself by reciting psalms that he had memorized. In my work as a pastor-in-training, this story has stuck with me. It’s stuck with me because now, more than ever, people find themselves without a pastor. And I don’t just mean people who don’t go to church. Even devout people find themselves in perilous situations without pastoral care. The causes are diverse. Sometimes its transience, moving to a new community and not being able to find a church home. Other times, it’s pastoral incompetence that leads people to strive with death and the devil all by their lonesome. Whatever the cause, the need has arisen for pastors to equip their congregants, both devout and occasional, with resources for comfort and reflection.
I think of these resources like Post-It notes, stuck in the corners of people’s minds. Mostly ignored, but at crucial junctures, reminding people of things beyond their consciousness. But with my mental Post-It notes come two questions:
First of all, how do I help my parishioners to build their own personal Post-It note stack? At least in the Lutheran church, membership used to come with a ready-made expectation of memorizing the Small Catechism, a treasure trove of resources for fighting the battles of the Christian life. However, in the present day and age, where educators scorn memorization as a relic of the “banking model of learning,” and where information is easily accessible, how can I kindle the desire for memorizing Scripture passages and other resources for the comfort of souls?
Second, tied together with the first question, what should go on those mental Post-It notes? While it’s possible that every member of my church may know John 3:16, can such an over-sentimentalized passage be of use in moments of need? These Post-It notes are not meant to be trite greeting card material; they need to be sharp tools. In other words, they need to pack a punch.
Unfortunately, while I possess the inkling that such work is important, the tools to make it a reality are still lying beyond my grasp.
With that all in mind, if you wish to start your own mental Post-It note stack, I’ll leave you with my recommendation for the first note to commit to memory. It comes from the prophet Ezekiel 37.13-14: The Lord said, “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.”