Kingdom Emerging a Little, Here and There

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Does our spiritual earnestness make us take ourselves too seriously? And being too serious about ourselves, do we lose touch with our humanity and the gentle things of life? In doing the ‘great things’ do we forget to live beautifully?

I am convinced that most of what we do that is worthy of our calling is very mundane. In fact, I believe that in our calling to be truly human, meaning that we are humans living out our lives in the presence of God, the main things are very small. Maybe it is my grandmother-ness, this season of being older, but I see the holiness of pouring a cup of tea with a friend, of pulling the covers over a body, of creating a place of peace, of smiling at a child or listening to their little story.

I know that all of us will slip away like fading grass. We are not indispensable. But from another perspective, one life can never be replaced, which is why we must keep living our own life. Our work, if I am not mistaken, is simply that – to live. To live into who we have become and are becoming, to live with others gently and appreciatively. I believe this is my best gift to humanity. I have done a lot of church things. A lot. Some of them matter, and I accept that much of that work has helped people live through a moment of their lives. But I don’t put all that ahead of the small acts of love and mercy and life. Steve Martyn quoted Alexander Maclaren in chapel today, “Work has its foundation in life. Therefore life is more important than work.” I have to say I agree with this. To my mind this doesn’t dismiss work, but puts it in its place, supported by life, not hiding death, as Maclaren said.

And in the same way, my ministry matters but is founded in my life. My life is more important than my work. To live that life beautifully, gently, openly and with compassion is my trophy.

Last summer I was in my garden – after yet another few days of rain. I  loved the cool rainy summer we had last year. My flower garden was lush but overgrown, and I started to carefully pull the large weeds. Soon I got enthusiastic and was pulling handfuls of weeds… until I looked in my hand and realized I had inadvertently grabbed the leaf of a beautiful plant I had nurtured all spring and which had just started blooming. I stood there looking at the plant hanging limply from my glove, and I thought of Jesus’ words teaching us that some things will be sorted out at the end of time, not to be too fast in sorting the weeds from the plants. I realized in that minute how precious are the little blooms of life, and that I must be ever more careful and slow to even venture to pull out my or someone else’s weeds/flaws/deficiencies. This is who I am becoming, at the core.

I cannot but be merciful. I must just do the work of nurturing what might bloom, of making someone smile, or provide a little rest for a soul in this harsh world. Then the Kingdom of Heaven is closer than it was an hour earlier.  I really do believe in the kingdom of heaven. Yes! I do also, and I live toward that, with bursts of ‘evangelical guilt’ that is still well planted in my own soul.
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Vice President for Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has been a church leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination since 1979. She has wide pastoral experience in partnership with her husband Steve. Together, they have lead three churches over 31 years, provided missionary member-care and pastoral retreats in Chile, Argentina and Venezuela since l985, and formation teaching during Field Conferences in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.

1 COMMENT

  1. I love this. I believe deeply that the small things of life – the pouring of tea, listening to a child – are important and sacred. Or, I think I believe it, but sometimes find myself falling into the trap of wishing I was important. I have been doing a lot of cooking for others. I cook for my children’s friends, for elderly parents, for those who are ill or grieving, and find the same pleasure in the preparation as I think you find in your poured tea. The baking of bread, stirring of soup, stuffing a farm chicken with herbs and surrounding it with baby potatoes is like prayer for me. Through the simple act of feeding people I hope to nourish both their bodies and their souls. We live in our bodies, and grieving and healing take tremendous energy, so along with praying for people I feed them, and feel that the food is as important as the words. It is so small but it grounds me and nourishes me and reminds me that a hearty meal made with good ingredients is a good thing.

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