Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Gospel of Servant-hood

Sunday's readings are still resonating with me:  If you want to be great in God's kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.  It sounds so straightforward and so simple.  Yet it's challenging to fully live out the gospel of servant-hood.

I heard a brief radio snippet of a Catholic speaker -- I believe it was Matthew Kelly -- and he was talking about our journeys.  We are all on a journey that begins in infancy and ends (at least the earthly part) when we die.  Each person we meet is somewhere on that journey; we don't know where when we encounter them; it's not for us to know.  So we need to have patience with them.  Isn't that just golden?

There isn't a lot of patience in the world today.  There's a lot of arrogance. We are swift to judge another as callus, ignorant, uncaring, selfish, stuck-up, petty . . . you name it! It is so hard to remember that we're on a journey; I'm on a journey, you're on a journey, our politicians are, our employers, our noisy neighbors, our homeless, our drug addicted, our children, our enemies, our "frienemies."

The choir did a communion anthem of a beautiful but not well-known hymn, "The Servant Song."  It begins thus,
Will you let me be your servant?
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are travelers on a road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I was convicted by how I unconsciously held that the "pilgrims" were people on the same journey as my own. That's not it, folks, not at all!  In fact, we are all "travelers on a road" and "we are here to help each other."  And that takes love.  It takes self sacrificing, non-judgmental, agape love.  Not the kind of mutual love where you are sweet to me and so then I am sweet to you, but the kind of love it takes to touch a leper; love that is born of sacrifice and respect.

In my daily life, I do not encounter lepers, but I have my own "untouchables."  Just yesterday, I called someone a "jackass," and worse, not to his face!  He's a pilgrim.  He's on a journey.  I might try a little patience and compassion.  I got sucked into the politics of it all.  I forgot I was a servant.  I was grabbing for some power.  There was a little "how dare he?" in my words.  Who's the jackass, by the way?

Home is where the Gospel of Servant-hood really comes into play, though.  Being a servant means loving each of my teens the best I can right where she is in their journey and not thinking she should be farther along. Serving my husband means listening to him and really caring what kind of day he had. It means seeing the cute in the 3-year-old's tears, the 4-year-old's sass and the 5-year-old's temper. It means supporting them, not ruling them. It means intimacy and that takes respect. It means taking time for each and every one of my people. Being a servant means remembering that relationships have seasons -- and being willing to stay on the boat when the sea is stormy.  As C. S. Lewis said in The Four Loves, "There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable."

Judging is easy. And by the way, I've noticed that when I judge someone, I'm usually wrong. If I get to know them better -- that intimacy again -- I see them differently. I can't see their journey when I'm judging them.  It takes compassionate eyes to see it. Only when I truly see them can I truly support them.

I'm not suggesting that we just say "she's perfect in God's eyes" and let it go; quite the opposite. Serving is active. If I see you have dog-doo on your shoe, I'm not letting you track it all over town. Agape love -- self sacrificing, non-judgmental, intimate love -- is active. Once we're in an intimate relationship, we can help each other. You can help me reach my goals and I can help you. I can ask you what would support you and then hold up my end of the deal. "I see you are fixing a ham sandwich and I remember you said you weren't eating meat today."  "I am committed to two hours of exercise each day. Will you ask me about my exercise if you see me sitting in front of the TV?" That sort of thing.

It's a lot to take in, but I know I can improve on my serving. I received an impetus from the prayers and petitions on Sunday when when we prayed for the strength to "acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel."  Lord, hear our prayer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

In the Doldrums

I've been in the spiritual doldrums lately.  Have you been there yourself at times?  There is nothing "wrong;" I have no complaints.  I'm just floating in a calm sea of tepid water.  Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Many years ago --when I was still a United Methodist -- I listened to a taped speech by the Dutch Priest, Henri Nouwen called "The Spirituality of Waiting."  I was in the doldrums then too.  Nouwen considers waiting a spiritual discipline akin to prayer.  He artfully makes the point that although in the modern world we are very accustomed to instant gratification, there is much to be gained in the waiting.  [Note:  I am paraphrasing as it has been many years since I've listened to this tape!]  Many people, Nouwen said,  -- good Christians at that -- dash about from one "spiritual experience" to another trying to "get somewhere" spiritually.  Instead, he suggests, there is great richness in the stillness. Waiting does not have to be a passive experience; it can be a deeply instructive.

This consideration of waiting and the doldrums got me pondering the experience of "being in the doldrums" in a nautical sense.  What must it have been like to be in a wind-powered vessel and stuck in the doldrums?  What did the crew do while they waited?  They couldn't get on a faster ship!  I tried researching the topic but was left eventually to my imagination.

I suspect that when the ship is stuck in the doldrums -- sitting motionless on a glassy sea under a hot, still, suffocating sun -- the crew quite easily falls into the doldrums themselves.  But are they permitted to sit and sulk?  Under a strong and experienced captain, the crew more likely does things they seldom have the time nor opportunity to do.  They may repair the sails, paint the mast, or clean the galley.  Perhaps they take advantage of the slack, lifeless sails to take a rare and refreshing swim in the calm sea. I feel pretty certain they do not spend too much time just staring at the sea or shouting at the sky, thinking the sea or the sky "should be" different.

So what I am I to do in the doldrums?  Maintenance, I guess.  I could fix my video on my computer so I can enjoy my video reflections again, review my training manuals, delve more deeply into the day's readings.  Or, better, enjoy more time in quiet reflection -- which is simply to be still and wait.  The doldrums allows a period of quiet to read God's Word and let it land on me just as the crepe myrtle blossom is lifted by the breeze, settling ever so gently on the pond.  To use Nouwen's phrase, "waiting is active;" I can read the scripture and allow the passage to sit until it soaks into me and is absorbed into my being, becoming part and parcel of who I am and what I have to offer; until It stagnates then ferments then ages and finally effervesces.

In the doldrums there is no where to go and nothing to be done except to listen to the silence.  And that is enough.