Getting Out of the Way

In the spiritual life I've discerned a general mission that begins with my own on-going conversion and extends to the world around me. In some mysterious sense, I find myself oscillating between my own spiritual needs and a need to be available for others. It's awkwardly comfortable and lately my consolation comes through meeting the needs of others.

This past winter I became a volunteer at a local soup kitchen and each week I make myself available for a few hours. Some of the time is spent in kitchen work, but my real purpose (according to the staff) is to mingle with the patrons and listen. My initial reaction was trepidation, but the Holy Spirit has consoled me and helped me to listen more attentively and speak more supportively. There's definitely an art to 'Christian listening' and it involves something I call 'getting out of the way'. It's a simple role but its life giving and profoundly spiritual, as long as I allow the Spirit free reign.

I'm not trained in serving the poor, so I refer any material needs to members of the staff; who are creative in finding solutions and resources. After some months at doing this, it's clear that my primary role is to be present and listen. It's also clear that there's a reward far greater than the small sacrifice I offer. (Speaking of sacrifice; we moderns have tried to avoid it rather than embrace it for others, and in doing so we've traded our unity with others, for discord and blame.)

In some way my life is being altered because of the role I play as listener. I have more of an opportunity and an obligation to share God's grace. Yet when I'm in the presence of someone in need, it's not clear whether this grace moves toward or away from me. What is clear is that the life of Christ arises as I step aside. The opposite is also true, that the gospel life diminishes as my own self-centeredness appears.

Self-centeredness becomes most obvious when I see others as 'wrong'. I 'get in the way' when I classify some individual's behavior as 'foolish'. I push Christ aside when I quantify someone else's 'weaknesses'. On the other hand, the gospel emerges when I focus on the needs of others, and it is exalted when I assist someone who's alienated or alone. Jesus is revealed when people are nurtured in any way, but he's glorified the most, when the poor are lifted up in their most undeserving moments. If I take the gospel seriously, then I have to be Christ-like to the most difficult person I can find.

Listening is actually a privilege and all of the souls I've met have been far from difficult: in fact they've been downright pleasant. And they've given me their time unselfishly, and aided me with their spirits. So I'll try to help by simply 'getting out of the way' and letting them unload their burdens for a short while.

No comments: