Sunday, 1 February 2009

What are you?

A snatch of dialogue from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:
‘ “What are you?”
“I am complicated.” ‘

A story from the life of Siddhartha Gautama:
‘They asked the Buddha:
“What are you? Are you a king? Are you a God?”
He answered them:
“I am awake.” '

Today I went to the Methodist chapel. My family, visiting, wanted to worship there – so we all went together.
The preacher – he is a consummate preacher whom I much admire – challenged us about our vocation (it is Vocations Sunday, I think). He stayed with his point, pressing us to consider –
What do you have to give?
What do you have to contribute?
What is your ministry?
What is your vocation?
He challenged us about our ministry and (gently) reminded us of the need for preachers and the commitment of personal involvement. He spoke about the ministry of all believers, the responsibility that rests upon every one of us in the service of Christ.

I am trying to learn to answer honestly the questions that come to my soul.

They found no mark in me. I know that I can preach, and of course I felt guilty that I no longer do, when I heard the challenge. He spoke about the wonder of the privilege that it is to be a minister – and of course I feel guilty that I did not stay with that; walked away from the privilege, the challenge, the ministry.

But these were the answers the questions found in me:
What do you have to give? – nothing
What do you have to contribute? – nothing
What is your ministry? – nothing
What is your vocation? – nothing

And if asked: ‘what are you?’ I would have to answer ‘nothing’.

I remember the time when the vision of Lady Poverty started with me. I was fifteen, and I had not long given my life to Jesus and become his property, which I still am. I am not my own, I was bought at a price, and I belong to him. When this was new with me, I came across the Fioretti, the tales of St Francis and his early followers. I loved Francis for the vision he had of complete humility and lowliness. I was also somewhat afraid of it, because even without tasting it I could see what it cost. And yet I felt drawn to it, as you do to something that (like it or not) has your name, your number on it – the paper with the cross.

Since the end of the 1990’s, I have seen things systematically leave me. It’s an interesting process, and I am not sure what the end of it will be, though like reading about St Francis it makes me feel rather afraid. It is as though there is to be nothing in my hands, nothing to cling to or to say ‘this is mine’ – even a vocation, a ministry or a place.

Many people (and I think this was true of me) have a wistfulness to be something; to achieve, to leave a legacy, to contribute something; to be remembered.

I think that if I am called to follow any star, it is to learn to hold onto nothing, to hand everything back; to walk freely and quietly on foot and without definition. There is to be no place for me, and no privilege and no ministry.

Of course I am willing to preach, to share the Gospel of Jesus in his simplicity, to communicate what I have seen and what I know: but not in role as a somebody or a something - with no credentials - for what could I possibly have?

Even writing feels more of an effort, because what comes back to me are the words of Oscar Wilde: 'I wrote when I did not know life. Now that I do know life, I know that life cannot be written - life can only be lived.' I think he was right - and writing now can have no literary conceit to it; it's become the log of a journey - nothing more.

What am I? A human being – nothing less.

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