Daily Office Readings for March 16, 2018:
I have to admit, Paul’s Epistle speaks to me this week, possibly because Diamond, my new 9 month old lab mix puppy, barks a lot, and reminds me a bit, at times of that “noisy gong” or “clanging cymbal”. But what I am also reminded of from both the puppy and the Epistle is the worth of discernment.
Paul talks about various gifts and callings any of us might possess as members of the Body of Christ–Apostles, prophets, and teachers, as well as the ability to do powerful deeds, gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, and the ability to say things in a different language (and feel free to take that last one literally, figuratively, or both.) We don’t always know what ones we might possess at first, but this is why discernment is not a “me and God” proposition. We need each other–the community–to understand our gifts more fully.
I was thinking about that as I begin the work of discerning my new puppy’s gifts. Like a lot of shelter dogs, she comes with a few issues–in this case, chewing, barking, and separation anxiety. What I’ve learned over the years that if I plan on changing those behaviors, I need to build on what she’s doing right, not what she’s been doing wrong. In Diamond’s case, I’m using her gifts of intelligence, and willingness to please to try to create ways that we can succeed together in helping her to become a mature, well-behaved dog. I also know every dog is different, and my expertise is limited to my depth of experience–so I’m not a bit shy about asking my friends who are “dog people” to give me their two cents worth. Sometimes when I am in the heat of the moment of “winning” I don’t always see what a person who…shall we say…”doesn’t have a dog in the hunt”…has to add.
It’s also why we don’t just simply go “oh, okay” when someone believes they’re called to a particular order of ministry. If someone feels called to either ordination or to monastic orders, the community becomes an integral part of that discernment. It’s a process we ought to embrace more fully in looking at the ministry of the baptized, and it’s heartening to see how this sort of discernment is taking place at the diocesan level in some dioceses.
Discernment is slow work, and it’s countercultural work in a fast paced 21st century where “I would like it done yesterday” and the voices of criticism, not support, are the norm. What might happen when we focus less on the latest glitzy ministry to do in the hopes of attracting followers, and focus more on doing the slow internal work on becoming the ministers each of us is called to be as we are doing whatever outreach is in front of us. Oh, to be sure, we need both–one feeds the other–but I believe sometimes the slow work of discernment gets lost in the busy-ness of the obvious work of outreach–especially as it relates to parish life. Parish life is so often looking for warm bodies to fulfill tasks. Would burnout lessen if we listened to what we tell one another about our sense of calling and/or gifts? Would outreach deepen with more depth of engagement?.
Also, love is a bigger part of ministry than we might at times give credit. Paul stresses that the underpinning of ministry should be love–love of Jesus, love for one another, and love for our neighbor. It can’t be a means to an end…or we’re just back to “making noise.”
As I ponder these things through my growing relationship with my new dog, I am reminded it never goes the way I think it should, and perhaps maybe that is where the grace of it all is. Even though I hadn’t planned on having a puppy at this stage of my life, and even though there are some things about puppyhood that complicate my life, I am reminded that inside every puppy is the dog it was meant to be. As a lifelong dog owner I’ve learned my task is not to necessarily have the dog I’d like to have, but the best community I can possibly have in my little dog pack–where things won’t be perfect, but they sure are a lot of fun and make my life richer. Inside every human being is the person God knows better than we do ourselves, and how much richer our “pack” might be, when we discover our gifts!
What are the gifts you might have that aid in the discernment of the gifts of others in your spiritual community?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as Interim Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.