Thursday, May 06, 2010

Power and Control, Meditations on the Daily Office...

This morning, as I finished my prayers at my desk, I picked up a devotional that a former parishioner gifted to me. It is a beautiful gift volume of Oswald Chanmbers' book, "My Utmost for His Highest." Really, a classic of a type of daily reader in which Chambers took a passage of scripture and then, for us, broke it open for a snapshot moment of reflection and prayerful meditation on the day's experiences. Of the many books like this one that sit on my shelf, I find myself turning to him on more than one occasion. He has a way of hitting a mark that I admire-and confess as well that his insights often make me more than a little discomforted. I think that was the giver's intent. Inside the cover she inscribed:
"May these readings prove a small light to you on your journey...Sometimes it is not clear to see His rationale. Go in peace and let Him guide your footsteps."
Best to stir things up before settling down into the workday, I think. Keeps me a little more honest. I try to keep her words as well to heart. Many people, particularly those closest to me, work very hard to ensure I maintain integrity-particularly Christ, who for some reason continues to express an interest in the direction my life and vocation take. To God, and my neighbor in Christ, blessings and thanksgivings. I don't say that near enough to people, I realize. Today, I speak openly. Particularly as God stirs me to write and reflect on power and control.

So, today's reading from Chambers is a snip of Paul's letter to the Galatians. Chambers, in today's meditation, selects Galatians 5:1: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free..." His point is to live according to a model of power and authority in Christ that does not seek to control, but to liberate. It is a continual temptation for people of faith, really, for any human, to take a belief of practice that we are passionate about and attempt to impose that template on another person with the hope that our conviction will make them free. Or, perhaps, "free-er" than they were before our enlightening grace entered their lives. I am reminded of a sermon that the parish's deacon gave during Lent this year in which she challenged us to see that the opposite expression of "faith" is not "doubt" or "fear." The opposite of faith is certainty.

Nothing is so dangerous as the idea that I can be so certain about anything as to be right in forcing you to believe, and act, as I would have you do in ministry and life. "Be this way" is a dangerous and life-destroying act. It is as damaging to others as our fear demand that life itself conform to our desire. I can't will the wind to stop because I want a calm...or for wind in a calm. I have to live with the weather I get. Why is it so hard to life the same way with people? Because that sort of flexibility demands more from us that we are often prepared to give up. Our certainties, for the most part, define us. I watch this every day in the world: politicians and public voices in the media offer increasingly strident demands that their way be THE way.

I see that all the time out there, and I feel it often inside myself. If only the world would be as I want it to be, I think with my more reptilian, baser self, then I would be safer/happier/more content. Right? The people in driving in front of me should get out of my way. The people behind me should be patient. After all, as I look out at the universe, aren't I standing at the center of it?

Chambers, Paul, really ANY wise person who has lived in the world for more than five minutes can understand that this perspective might work for an infant-but the reality of life is that we HAVE to take others into account. Being free and at liberty also means respecting and loving others in their liberty as well. Even when these perspective are in conflict. The longer I live, the more I realize that I lack the strength and grace to make that practice real on my own. If I am to be for others in this life, then I have to first allow Jesus to model for me-and work through me-what it means to be someone who is at once both utterly contained and content in being an individual while at the same time being one who is in harmony and alignment with the Divine Will.

This morning's Gospel reading from the Daily Office is a classic of Jesus teaching to let God have the burden of creating meaning while we strive to live within it. Matthew 6: 25-ff, starts off with Jesus telling us not to worry about life, "about what you are to drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Life is "more than food and the body more than clothing." Makes sense...frightening sense.

I look back on life and ministry and realize that my worst offering of leadership and greatest commitment of folly came when I did two things with abandon: I indulged in worry, and judgment. I worried about my ability to control my environment and my relationships with other people to the point that I throttled my connections to them. I judged them, and not myself, when what I expected of them were things I was not willing to ask God to manifest in myself. Power and control became weapons, then, both of defense and attack. Instead of making known the name of Jesus and his mercy; I lived a life and ministry of demand and fear wore me down to a nub. Not a good way to be in Jesus Christ; but through sin and repentance come new life. From persecution and suffering-if taken on in the spirit of Christ-comes resurrection.

So, today anyway, I find myself feeling a little more open to Christ-both in myself and in the people I see out there in a world that is yearning. Yearning not for MY good word or deeds, but for Christ working through US.

The epistolary reading for today is drawn from the opening lines of Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, and it illustrates a healthy posture for a growing Christian who struggles with the powers of the world (and with the desire for power to inflict control within them):
We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also are suffering....To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
So, when it comes to power and control, perhaps today we just might resolve to allow the Other who is Jesus to guide us to grace and peace: "Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." BCP, p. 832-A prayer of self-dedication


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