Monday, February 5, 2024

Jesus the Introvert


Mark 1:29-39

Epiphany 5 / Year B

We minister types refer to it as the “clergy coma.”  It is what happens to us on Sunday afternoons after a very full and busy morning at the church.  We go home and we collapse.  Multiple services, education programs, and people coming at us from all directions with all manner of concerns:

s  An update on a person in the hospital.

s  A question about the order of the procession.

s  Feedback on what the bishop is reported to have said or done.

s  A comment on an item for the Vestry agenda.

s  Anxiety about someone who has not been in church for a couple of weeks.

You get the idea.  And the more introverted a priest is by nature the more worn out she or he will be after all of Sunday morning’s activities are over.

If you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality inventory than you know the preference of introversion verses extroversion is all about energy – what drains you and what restores you.  Extroverts are energized by large crowds, speaking in front of people, and generally (from my point of view) living in the midst of chaos.  More than anything else, extroverts are exhausted by being alone.  I once worked for a priest who would do anything other than close his office door and write an article for the monthly newsletter.  That, for him, was torture.  We had three services each Sunday morning and by the time the last one ended, he had more get-up-and-go than the energizer bunny.  Me, not so much. 

Introverts tend to enjoy reading, coding, painting, and/or writing; activities one tends to do on one’s own.  We prefer to work alone rather than being a part of a group project.  You will find us hanging out in the corner at large social gatherings.  At Chanco clergy retreats the introverts gather outside out on the porch rather than in a noisy crowded room.  We tend to leave (escape) parties early, but (according to Myers-Brigs) I am off the charts extroverted in small, intimate settings and therefore tend to be the last person to leave the campfire at Clergy retreats. 

So here is a question: was Jesus an introvert?  Well, more than one introvert has said yes and written a book or an article to argue why.  You need look no farther than this morning’s gospel reading for evidence to support their thesis.  Jesus has had a hectic day.  He attends the local synagogue with his small band of followers.  He is asked to preach and teach, and what he says is well-received.  Then a man possessed by a demon becomes unhinged and Jesus confronts the situation.  Afterward he goes to Peter’s house for a Sabbath meal and learns the disciple’s mother-in-law has a fever.  Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  With this, as with the demon before, the fever leaves her.  The text then tells this:

“At sundown they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” 

If you are an introvert by nature, this is a sure-fire recipe for a clergy coma!  Crowds.  Chaos.  No place to escape from it all.  This is not to say Jesus (or introverted clergy) don’t want to preach, teach, and heal.  He did and we do.  It is to say all of this activity leaves Jesus somewhere between drained and exhausted.  He gets some sleep and then rises while it is still ‘very dark’.  He slips away to what the text describes as a deserted place.  He is alone and wants to be alone… needs to be alone in a way extroverts don’t. 

In her book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts, Holly Gerth explains why this is so necessary for Jesus and for those of us who are introverts:

When we turn inward, we’re not withdrawing or holding back; we’re choosing to show up in a sacred space of creativity, contemplation, and imagination.  Our inner worlds are where insights, innovations, breakthroughs, solutions, and intimate connections with God originate.

Extroverts experience the same things, they just get there in a different way.  They rely on group process and discover by talking things out.  They draw energy from communal settings because they relish being a part of the whole.  Jesus was able to minister to the whole because he made time and space to be alone… to pray.

Most Episcopal worship is an introvert’s dream, save for passing the peace.  Our liturgy invites you to go inward in order to hear God’s still, quiet voice.  We are not dancing to a praise band, clapping our hands, shouting ‘amen’, or dancing in the aisles (except when the Jazz Band is here).  Just as introverts need to be with people from time-time-time, extroverts need at least a little time to be alone with God.

There is in each of us a secret inner wisdom, a voice (if you will), which tells us things we need to hear, but never will if we don’t go from time-to-time to a deserted place.  This can be daunting and draining for extroverts, but it is work you need to do.  For us introverts, being in such a space is a natural as breathing.  At least once a day, Cindy will walk into my office, observe I am doing nothing, and ask what I am up to.  My response, “I’m thinking about Jesus!”  I encourage you to do the same.  Carve out a space – it doesn’t have to be long – where all you are doing is thinking about Jesus.  It’s good for you.