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Service is Devotion's Practical Sister


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
August 7, 2016

Today I want to talk about balance in the Spiritual Life. Our reading from Luke’s Gospel seems extreme to us. After assuring the disciples that they need not be afraid, Jesus counsels them to give up everything. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!” So much for balance!

Then he tells a parable about slaves waiting for their master. We justifiably hate language like this. It only makes sense if we think of God as the ruler and lord of our lives, but most of us feel called into a mutual relationship with the divine. Still there is something to be said about being ready for the unexpected, for that unexpected hour when the Christ Spirit calls you to action.

But how do we balance the need for service, and the need for devotion; the call to justice, to action, to work in the world, with a need for silence, for poverty, for the humility.  Remember that the first word of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” which is the very essence of humility.

We are called to “Do Justice, Love Kindness, yes; but also to act with humility, and that requires devotion, contemplation, silence, balance.

Most of us are more comfortable being challenged to do more! To do justice is what the Lord requires of us, yes. We see so much that is wrong in our world. We want to do our part in healing the wounds, repairing the breach, helping others, making a difference! I get more positive feedback every time I preach a prophetic sermon than any other time. We seem to like being told enough is never enough! When my call to action agrees with your sense of right, it inspires, it motivates, which is a good thing, right?

But, “What happens when we are accustomed to a full-scheduled life?” Tamarack Song, in an article in Parabola Magazine suggestes that, we no longer feel comfortable during lulls so we look around for ways to keep busy. We feel ill at ease when nobody is talking, so we fill the silence with unnecessary words. Even when alone, we play music or call someone, just to fill in the space. We find it difficult to embrace the quiet in Nature, or hear the sounds of other living beings.

So I continue to challenge us to do less, to sit still, to Meditate. It is not easy to slow down, to turn off the TV, to quiet the radio, to light a candle, to do simple quiet things slowly, with great care. Ruth Gendler’s description of Devotion brings this soft and beautiful quality to life:
“Devotion lights candles at dusk. She braids her grandmother’s hair with an antique comb. She works as an ecologist at the university. She wears long flowing tunics with bright cotton pants. She has never taken a dance class but she moves with an unstudied grace, sensitive to the edge where her body meets the air.

“Devotion balances periods of great stillness with times of movement and exuberance. She has prayed in many temples and seen evidence of God in unlikely places. She keeps a postcard of Saint Francis above her desk. A Yemenite amulet hangs in her window. Always she remembers to honor the Mother.”

Devotion seems to brings an attitude of care and attention to everything we do. It invites us to notice the blessings in every moment, to pay attention to our children, our elders, our work, as if they are all infinitely important. It asks us to remember our deepest values with every decision we make, to go a bit more slowly, to take time to breathe, to pray.

Again, Tamarack Song reminds me of what being silent in a quiet environment has given me: I learn more. I get more done in less time, and I do it better. This reduces stress and creates openings for other activities. It’s much easier to listen and observe. I can more easily focus and give people or tasks my full attention. Life overall becomes richer and more relaxed.

“Service is Devotion’s practical sister.” I love that! Gendler reminds us that the two are intimately connected, not distant and estranged, like some of our families, but connected and complimentary. We do our best work when we balance inner silence with outer activity. Both sisters are passionate. Both are a part of us.

“Service is Devotion’s practical sister. She is a funny one, sort of austere and sensuous at the same time. She isn’t as stern as she was as a young child, and she is not in such a hurry but her intensity has not diminished at all. She has learned that seeds must be watered before they sprout. Some lie dormant for years. Shoots must be nurtured before they bloom. We all work in different ways.”

When we work we must remember to come from love that is patient, kind, with the long view, aware of organic processes. We may only help this one starfish back into the sea but for that starfish it really matters!

There is always so much more to do. Again, Ruth Gendler’s wisdom is a wonderful reminder:
“Sometimes we need to remind Service to take a vacation. She sees so much that needs to be done and she forgets that she also needs to rest. In my opinion Service would be a marvelous job counselor – if you can imagine the Employment Development Department hiring someone like her. She never asks you to do what you cannot do, but only what you most truly can do.”

Are you doing the work in the world you feel God has called you to do? Can you imagine the Employment Development Department asking you to do the job that most fits your abilities? What can you most truly do? Is that central to how you live your life?

Too many of us work to make a living, but we are all called to fully live through the work we do. How much of your time and energy is devoted to creating treasure in this world? “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” It is a challenging statement. Jesus has asked us to examine our values in this clear light.

If your work is not meaningful or fulfilling, if there is not enough of it, then perhaps you are being called to go deeper into Devotion, to listen to that still, small voice of God within, to discover how you may be called to make a change. Perhaps what you have assumed to be your way to serve, no longer works for you or for your family.

Change is hard, but when we listen with Devotion and attention and patience. God can transform our lives, can ask us to do what we most truly can do, which may be different today than it was a year ago.

Service and Devotion work together. Richard Rohr calls it linking Action and Contemplation. We need that balance in our lives. Let these sisters thrive within you to discover your calling as well as your sacred center in Christ. May it be so!