In case you didn’t realize it, a pastor’s life is a normal life.

The last month or so has been a whirlwind of emotions around here.

Our youngest son graduated from high school and began making preparations for college.  There was great joy at his achievement of this milestone in his life and a bit of sadness that we are now a household of adults.

Number two son succumbed to the temptations of the world in a far away city.  I once told him, “don’t get yourself into a situation that I cannot get you out of.”  This particular situation was as close as it gets.  So it is with great relief and no small amount of consternation that he’ll be returning home in a week, permanently, to continue his education locally.

Number one son, now 26, continually reveals that his ‘adult’ brain is starting to kick in.  This gives his mother and I some hope for the other two.  His chronic health issue(s) flared up this week and he, himself, decided that he needed to check in with the doctor and (as he says) spend some quality time in the hospital before he really tanked.

I have the sneaking suspicion that there are some folks around (who are aware of this drama) that are waiting for me to crash.   It is apparent to me that I need more sleep than usual, and that my mind is more than a little distracted.  But I have no sense that I am teetering on the edge of some emotional and spiritual precipice.   In most ways, I see all of this as normal life.

A normal life involves these sorts of joys and concerns.  I am reminded of this fact, not by my own experiences, but by the testimony of scripture.  My own daily prayer practices lead me through most of the Psalter every week.  There are, of course, psalms that lift up the experience of God’s saving and redemptive acts on behalf of the psalmist.  But there are also plenty of times when the psalmist complains that life is not going as well as (s)he had hoped.

There is a market out there for what some folks identify as the ‘prosperity’ gospel.  It is a view championed by some that if you get yourself right with Jesus, success will surely follow.  It comes, I suspect, from some selective reading of scripture.  It is not new, being once championed by “Be Happy Attitudes” and “The Power of Positive Thinking” and now “It is Your Time.”

Whenever I am tempted to rest upon these perspectives of faith, I am reminded of other much more ancient voices.  They speak the whole truth about life.  I love the blues, for the musicality, but also for the truth telling.  I recently found myself listening to that great aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot, “Nessun Dorma:”

“Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d’amore, e di speranza!”

(English translation: “None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!”)
“Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!”

(“But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!”)
“Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!”

(“And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!”)

Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance:

“Il nome suo nessun saprà… E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!”

(“No one will know his name… and we will have to, alas, die, die!”)

Calaf, the prince the princess wants to call ‘amore’ now certain of victory, sings:

“Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!”
(“Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win! “)

Perhaps a bit of interpretation is required, lest you think I’ve totally lost it.  Where the Prince says “then I shall die”, he really means “die” in the sense of lose himself completely to true love.

If all goes well in a faithful, normal, life, I for one do not believe that we find worldly treasures or smooth sailing.  What we do find is that we lose ourselves in the love of God in Christ.

This strange and peculiar arrival has been brought to mind, involuntarily I might add, as the story of the prodigal son.  I am in great debt to those who have referred to this pericope as the ‘prodigal father.’   More than one commentator has suggested that this isn’t a story about a Prodigal son, but about a Prodigal father, who is recklessly extravagant in his love and compassion, lavishly abundant in giving grace, mercy, and forgiveness to his children, both sons and daughters!

This story reminds me that a normal life is not so much about reaping the havest of material wealth or of good health even, but noticing when the arms of love are stretched wide, and being willing and able to receive that embrace.