Saturday, September 05, 2009

Future in Ministry: Two or Three Things

The novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once made the point that every novelist has two or three things to say, which he or she repeats in various forms throughout a lifetime of writing.

At the time I encountered that statement, I was a college student reading through most of his work, and young enough that most things were still fresh and new. The idea that the essence of a person's thought, experiences, approach to life, might be boiled down to two or three ideas, was one of those fresh and new things, and one of the few I never forgot.

Many years later, as I was become an aficionado of the sermon genre, it became apparent that the same statement could be made of preachers. Preachers, like novelists, reveal themselves through words that dance around and through a couple of major themes, the difference being that preachers' themes tend to emerge from the kaleidescopic lens of the Bible.

And then, my first year in seminary, one of my professors mentioned this same reality. And many of the students, not much older than I had been in college, found his words to be as fresh and new as I had Scott Fitzgerald's.

Fresh and new or fresh and old ~ it doesn't matter. I think that we all have ways of focusing, of narrowing in, on our lives and work characteristic of who we are in our deepest, richest, most authentic selves and, if God so graces us, we are permitted to express those selves to others in our work as well as in our kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms.

With my formal training in spiritual direction behind me and one year of seminary left, I have started to think about what my own Two or Three Things might be. I have no idea to what work I will be invited when this second academic portion of my life comes to a conclusion; like an adolescent, I imagine one thing one day and another the next. I probably have, if I remain healthy, fifteen or so years of very active ministry ahead of me, and then, I hope, many years beyond that of perhaps spiritual direction and writing. (You don't have to remind me, of course, that prediction is a futile activity. But one needs to think in general terms, at least.)

I don't know what my activities might entail, but a sense of what my calling is has begin to bubble up. That sense ~ my Two or Three Things, the ones that matter so much to me that I might test each proposed act or potential word (or flow of words!) against them ~ is merely at the beginning stage of a work in progress at the moment.

I wish I had thought of this when I was twenty ~ of trying to boil down to two or three the things that most mattered to me about how to live my life and contribute my gifts to the vast river of lives and gifts that creates the human community. Now, with fewer years ahead of me than behind, it has become an essential task.

And so, my first vague try. Three Things, without (much) elaboration at this point:

"My work is loving the world." (Messenger, by Mary Oliver)

Our narratives are called into life by God our Creator and blend into the narrative of Jesus through the Spirit. It is essential that we tell and live our stories in order that we as God's most beloved may be transformed into whom God calls us to be. (My personal summary of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.)

"Be gentle, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden." Philo of Alexandria. Those of us who have crouched down and wailed into the dry desert wind need to share that story and and open our eyes against the blinding grains of sand, so that we see more clearly and can share more willingly the weight others carry, freeing them to share and live their stories as well. (A sort of subchapter of my Second Thing, bourne out of the past year of my life.)

What about you? Have you thought about what your Two or Three Things are? Do you consciously try to live them out? Are you able to dispense with those things no longer at the core of your being, and center yourself on those that are?


Stratoz said...

I can imagine going on a retreat and finding that my calling is... oh, I have not gotten to that post yet ;')

Cynthia said...

I've been trying to figure out my two or three things ever since I read that Fitzgerald quote nearly thirty years ago. I'm still working on it, and sometimes I feel like I'm farther away from discovery than I ever was. Then I read my old journals, think I have a clue and get disgusted that they're so boring. Sighing out loud, I'm hoping I just have my cranky on tonight as I'm writing this.

MikeF said...

I know I've posted this many times before, but really I haven't found in a lifetime of looking anything that sums it up for me as well as:

'An elder was once asked, “What is a merciful heart?” He replied:

“It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God."'

(St. Isaac of Nineveh - 7th century)

Kathryn J said...

You have given me something interesting to think about here. Hmmmm.

Laurie said...

Be gentle, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden. A version of this has been posted at the school I work at for the past few years. I have been told that my Grandpa used to say "everyone has their own bag of rocks to carry". I do try to keep this in mind now in my dealings with nearly every person I encounter. In some ways I think it makes me very wishy-washy - I am not interested in confronting those who "wrong me" or take out any inner rage on some innocent bystander like so many people around me do. I think it has lifted a big burden from my own shoulders and helps me to be a place of calm now that I am out in the world again, mingling with real live people.

Good luck to you as you begin this leg of your journey. You have handled it all with such grace (from this point of view). Be safe in your travels and as peaceful in mind and heart as is possible.