Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Pastor and the Ground Hog




Title:        The Pastor and the Ground Hog


Author:   Joe Pugh


(Posted Feb 2011)


[Introduction by JONAH Directors: This story illustrates how concerned clergy have the capacity to reach out and help a person come out of "hiding" in order to face his/her own shadow; living in shadow results in seeking safety and gratification in ways that may hurt the person in shadow and those around him. By encouraging the individual who struggles to move into the light and rise above the shadow, a person can leave behind the darkness of winter and enter the season of spring when life starts anew. The story also points out different ways in which the shadow appears in our lives.] 


Six inches already, thought Ben Fahey, as he looked out the window of his home. The factory had sent out a memo yesterday afternoon, indicating that the forecast was so severe that all non-essential personnel were to stay home the next day. 


Non-essential, that's me alright. Ben smiled wryly as he thought how appropriate his employer's choice of words was. Now today, Friday, February 2nd, he would have all day to ponder its significance. He went to the kitchen, put some coffee on and started playing a CD of classical music.  When the coffee was ready, Ben poured himself a cup, grabbed a book from his shelf, and curled up on the couch with a blanket. The book he had chosen was one that contained Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant. He had just become warm and comfortable when he heard a loud knocking on the door. Cursing quietly, Ben extricated himself from the blanket and went to see who it was.


"Pastor!" Ben exclaimed, "I thought you were a neighborhood kid selling shoveling services!" Ben was a nominal member of a small local church. For no apparent reason, Ben's pastor had been making visits recently to his mobile home. To Ben's surprise, he never asked for donations; his visits appeared purely social. Since the pastor was unmarried, Ben had at first suspected an intimate motive, but had never sensed anything forward or potentially seductive in mannerism nor glance. Appreciative of the friendship, Ben had come to welcome these visits, until the most recent one, where Ben felt he had said too much. The pastor had left messages asking for another visit but Ben had found it too difficult to reply.


"I could use shoveling services; my car is stuck just around the corner," the pastor said. "Don't offer; it won't start again either."
"Do you need to call AAA?" Ben asked.
"I already did. They're going to show up in `3 – 5 hours' due to the weather." 
"Well then," Ben replied," I'd say you've come to the right place. Come on in. There's coffee if you want some."
"I won't turn that down. Thank you. If I'm interrupting something..."
"Not at all, unless keeping me from reading a book I've already read 20 times counts as an interruption. Oh, I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you in a while, um, I've been kinda busy. Here, have a seat. I'll be right back with your coffee."


The pastor sat down on an easy chair by the couch, took off his coat and got comfortable. In a few minutes, Ben returned with his coffee and sat down next to him.


"So Ben," the pastor began, "May we pick up where we left off? You've told me about your troubled youth. You've told me about your father's abusive side, about your peer rejection, your mum's issues and about the incident that happened to you in junior high school. I'm honored and humbled by your honesty to me. I want to ask you again, if you are willing to tell me, how does all this relate to the fact that you're a virtual recluse in a town of four thousand people? What...are you hiding from?"


Ben felt half cornered and half relieved to face this question. He stirred in his seat and paused a moment before he replied, "Well, part of it is that all the peer rejection I got as a youth makes me...uncomfortable. It's hard to relate to other men...and women." Ben stopped and looked up but the pastor waited him out. "You know, a lot of the guys picked on me when I was younger. know, they called me queer and stuff." After a moment Ben whispered, "They were right."


The pastor waited a bit longer but Ben said no more. "Well, I'm not going to think any less of you for what you just said, even if it's true." he added, with almost a smile. "How do you know that it's true, by the way?"
After fidgeting a moment Ben looked the pastor in the eyes and said, almost defiantly, "Let me put it this way, two nights ago I had a dream, one of those kind of dreams. Was it about a guy? No! It was about a teenage guy! If you were me would you go running around the neighborhood?!"


"Okay Ben, you've got a point. So you've seen your own capacity for darkness; do you think you're unique? Ask me about my recovery from alcoholism. Ask me about what kind of idiot I was back when I was drinking. Anyway, do you really think that you're so dangerous you have to lock yourself in your house whenever you're not at work?"


"Who'd want to socialize with me anyway? I wouldn't!"
The pastor shifted in his seat. After a moment, he replied, "So you're just going to stay in and hide, is that it?" His voice was tired rather than exasperated. "Are you just going to spend the rest of your life as a ground hog?"  Ben gave a little laugh at this, nervously and without mirth. "Is that supposed to be an insult? I guess pastors are not allowed to say anything meaner, huh?"

"I didn't mean it as an insult. Today is ground hog day, and with our luck as usual he will see his shadow and crawl back into his den for six more weeks of Winter. You, Ben, see your shadow, your capacity to seek safety and gratification in ways that can hurt yourself and others, so you want to run back to a safe, dark place where shadows cannot be seen because there is no light to reveal them, and as a result you're living in a spiritual and emotional Winter. Which is where you'll stay if you don't deal with it."


"I think the alternative is worse."  "That's because you only see one alternative – the dark one. There's also a bright one. An option made possible by grace. Ben, you need to face your shadow and rise above it. You can come to understand its roots so you can learn to control its branches. You can look your fellow man in the eye knowing that each of him has his own shadow and you can turn the energy of fear into the energy of love and compassion, and Spring will come back into your life." After a silent pause he continued. "It won't happen overnight. I can help you if you want me to, or you can see a professional counselor. They deal with this more often than you'd think. Will you give it a try?"


Ben looked back at the pastor with a look like he was trying not to smile. "I'll think about it." He said.
They talked casually for a while until the pastor finished his coffee. "Well, I'd better get going; I have a lot of work to do at the office."


Ben frowned. "But your car is broken down." he objected. 
"Oh, about that," the pastor grinned, "I lied. I guess that's one of my shadows!"
Ben grinned back. "Thank you."


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