From the collection Look Winter in the Face, 2015.


The pastor a young man
long hair could use a bit of styling I think
but wearing the pastor outfit with the collar
so anyone would know what he does
but I know because
I easily hear his conversation
with the older lady
he is getting in a pastoral visit
one lunch table over from me.
He speaks loudly is she hard of hearing
but I think not I think
I’m sure the pastor is a nice guy but
his professional sympathy could win a sprint to the door
against a whole track team
it’s moving so fast through
financial problems nine cats health issues
vanished. Him too.
She turns toward me as she shrugs on her coat
not seeing me
her face slipping out of its polite smile
into despair
I hear her thinking
Well, I tried that
and it was of no help at all
now what
now who?

Clay tile sad face with red lips 8-15 small

clay tile, 6″ x 6′, 2015.


8 thoughts on “Uncomfort

  1. This was especially good. As clergy myself, it’s embarrassing to see that happen, but too often it does, and not only with the inexperienced. Like preaching, pastoral care takes certain skills and gifts – some are better than others, but everyone can learn the basics. I recall a particularly awful pastoral visit (many years ago, before I was ordained) – a close friend who had terminal cancer (who was also a deacon in the parish and very involved in the church) received a call from her insensitive young rector (who had been avoidant, as if cancer was somehow contagious), asking if he could come by. She and her husband were home and said “Sure,” thinking maybe the rector had come ’round at last. So he gets there, and after a quick hi, how are you, he plunges awkwardly into a talk – “we all fill these out, me too, er, ah, um, yes” and hands them a check off list for funeral preferences. My friend had a great sense of humor, fortunately, so she and her husband bit their tongues until the young man departed, and then ‘ROTF’ laughing. An “if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry” moment.

  2. Yes. If people take the time to listen. Especially it hurts if you turn to a professional and even they don’t listen. I think if each of us could spare just a little time and pick up on signals we could help another person along the way. Then of course there is the other side. Some people require a lot of listening and still things get nowhere. Another one of those life questions – how best to deal with our fellow humans?

  3. Thank you and OMG. What a story. I based this poem on an incident I observed and also added in a couple of experiences of my own, and feeling sad about someone asking for help and not getting it. It seems to me that some clergy are people persons and enjoy this aspect of the job, and others lean more toward communion with the divine but not so much here on earth. Both types are needed, it seems, but sometimes they get placed in the wrong spot or else have a variety of duties, some easier or more in tune with their abilities and preferences. The human personality always breaks through. In the end, I always hope that if it were me, I would know my limits and be able to ask for help for a person I was not able to help. It was a good lesson to me.

  4. I wrote a skit when I was a chaplain resident about the topic: it was amusing, if I can find it I’ll share. The sad irony is that some of the least pastoral individuals think they are so on top of it. As people are often vulnerable with clergy, it’s clergy’s duty to be better at this.

  5. I have observed similar scenes over the years. Some people can be well-intentioned with their pastoral, supportive roll but actually just lack the capacity or skills required to express and articulate sincere compassion and to offer anything meaningful.

  6. Yes, I agree. Religious life has a particular set of challenges. And maybe this guy was just drained of what he needed this day. Better on another day I hope.

Comments are closed.