I am a seeker ― with far more questions than answers, and in recent days, my queries have been dramatically outnumbering my explanations. Fortunately, in the past decade, my lifelong spiritual quest has led me to the sagacious sphere of one Dr. Joe Clifford. And that’s why I pen this post today. Alas, I am struggling with his recent announcement that he and his family will be leaving our frazzled city in less than a month. Intellectually, I know this sadness will pass, and Dallas/#DallasStrong will persevere somehow, but I still feel an overwhelming sense of loss.
References to Joe’s canny wisdom and his super-human pastoral care shimmer across the pages of my blog like freshly cut gems. Since 2009, the content I have crafted here has included both professional and personal musings ― more like a meandering stream of consciousness than a stake in the ground, but these ideas started spilling forth way before Twitter was cool and Snap even considered Chatting. And, this stream has definitely ebbed and flowed . . .
Now, thinking about the soul-rattling events of recent weeks and days, my own profound healing journey over the past seven years, and Joe’s impending departure, I can’t help but recall one of the first posts I was ever inspired to write. It was about a “Joe sermon.” And several years later, I actually had the good fortune to do some “official” blog writing for First Presbyterian Church ― helping amplify the impact of Joe’s insights and the Word of God. A career highlight and honor.
An excerpt from that April 2009 post:
Joe has an extraordinary capacity to inform and enrich my path in ways that are difficult to articulate. Today was an excellent example. He talked about the celebration of Easter wearing off as we entered a week punctuated by the bleakness of tax day, difficult professional challenges ― real life, etc. Then, he said a friend forwarded him the Susan Boyle link on Wed ― the astonishing performance of the unassuming 47-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent, who has captured the world’s imagination. He says he does not have time for all the forwarded email he receives, but he opened this one for some reason.
He said he wept ― and he asked the congregation how many of us had seen it and wept. Most of those present raised their hands. He went on to describe theologian Frederick Buechner‘s take on the origin of these tears. I now cannot get enough Buechner. He ponders:
How do you listen to your life? How do you get into the habit of doing it? How do you keep ears cocked and your eye peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else? One thing I have said, which I think is true, is to pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who you are . . .
They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.
Joe said we have a profound, spiritual reaction to joy ― to God. And it’s not enough to experience the moment ― we must use it as a way to discover our own life’s calling, what God has called us to do and be.
The world is hurting ― facing daunting challenges. I believe we are called to pay attention, be vigilant in our consciousness, and bare our hearts. Thank you for helping us do all of those things along the way, Joe. Godspeed to you and your family . . . with a smile and a tear.
This may not be Susan Boyle, but it’s a moment ― for now.