For the Love of God

images-2I read, once, an article by a woman who had decided to join a Christian community. She wrote that when she had become part of it, she began to feel utterly discouraged by the astonishing gifts of the other members. One person was able to provide sensitive pastoral care to those who were dying. Another was organizing migrant laborers into collectives to advocate for adequate food and shelter. She?…She was cooking the supper. Day after day, week after week: cooking the supper. She could not have felt more useless, more ordinary.

The turning-point came for her one day when she realized that her cooking was actually a form of participating in their ministries. She could not comfort the dying; she could not engage in community organizing; but she could strengthen the people whose lives were dedicated to that work she so admired. At once, her labor shifted shape in her sight:  it was no longer menial, but significant, a part of bringing into reality the reign of God.

Way back in the seventeenth century, a man named Brother Lawrence had a similar experience. He was a monastery cook, which was about the lowest job in the monastery. While the other monks studied Scripture, counseled penitents, sang the services, Lawrence peeled potatoes, chopped turnips, and tended the fire. But people began to notice that this lowliest of monks glowed with a love of Christ that they would have given anything to have in their own lives. The abbot commanded Lawrence to write of images-1how he managed to stay always in the presence of Christ. He wrote, in part, “that he had always been governed by love, without selfish views; and that having resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found good reason to be satisfied with his method. That he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.”

Our lives are lived amid a constant round of drudgery: cleaning clothes, making beds, checking the e-mail, paying the bills, doing the thousand tedious administrative tasks that need to be done if our private world or the communities in which we participate are not to fall apart. It is all too easy to lose focus, to see these tasks, or the people who do them, as merely menial, unimportant.

But that could not be farther from the truth: those tasks are the way we care for the people we love, the way we tend the communities we love, the way we honor the other people whose work makes our lives possible.

Even in church, the most tedious task of preparing a rota, setting up tables, ironing altar hangings, allows us to participate in the work of God, just as crafting a good letter or ordering supplies or coordinating logistics are ways of participating in the larger work of an organization we admire.

Honor that work. Honor those who perform it carefully and with Unknown-1skill. That work is love made visible, every day. Our lives would be deeply impoverished without it — for how, then, would we show our care?

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3 Responses to For the Love of God

  1. Sara says:

    On Being Called to Prayer
    While Cooking Dinner for Forty

    When the heavens and the earth
    are snapped away like a painted shade,
    and every creature called to account,
    please forgive me my head
    full of chickpeas, garlic, and parsley.
    I am in love with the lemon
    on the counter, and the warmth
    of my brother’s shoulder distracted me
    when we stood to pray.
    The imam took us over
    for the first prostration,
    but I kept one ear cocked
    for the cry of the kitchen timer,
    thrilled to realize today’s cornbread
    could become tomorrow’s stuffing.
    This thrift may buy me ten warm minutes
    in bed tomorrow, before the singer
    climbs the minaret in the dark,
    to wake me to the work
    of thought, word, deed.
    I have so little time to finish (only I
    know how to turn the dish, so the first taste
    makes my brother’s eyes open wide) —
    forgive me, this pleasure
    seems more urgent than the prayer —
    I take refuge in You
    from the inextricable mischief
    of every thing You made,
    eggs, milk, cinnamon, kisses, sleep.

    ~ Patrick Donnelly ~

    (The Virginia Quarterly Review)

    I received this poem from a dear friend this morning. A message I apparently needed to hear in stereo. Thank you Deborah and Sally.

  2. John Daniel says:

    From the opening paragraph, I begin to think of Mary and Martha.

  3. Lindy says:

    Just found this while reading for class: “One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of their own career too solemnly.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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