(Part 4 of 4)
In my reflections on the spiritual disciplines, I have covered "Simplicity", "Silence" and "Humility". Now comes the last one-- "Service". Can't have true community without it.
The Rev. Margaret (I know her last name, but since she doesn't publish it, neither will I) who works on a reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D., on her blog site "Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It" wrote:
"We do not have a faith that celebrates suffering and tries to condone it by lumping it all up as "holy". We do share a faith with Jesus that God is with us, and even when it feels that we have been forsaken, God is already at work redeeming, restoring, resurrecting. And that is salvation --not the streets paved with gold, or things flowing with milk and honey, or the promise of life after death... salvation is merely confidence that we are not abandoned to the Great Lie although we may suffer its ravages.
That doesn't help the hungry children, or the poor man who picks food [cans of beans] off the shelf with such gentle care. That is what we must confront. Not God. Us. Like Jesus."
to read this whole touching piece, see http://leaveitlay.blogspot.com/2013/08/perpetual-holy-week.html
Everything about service for a contemplative is based on these verses in the Bible: Matthew 25:39-40--'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" And Proverbs 14:31 says, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." We understand that Jesus comes to us in every person we encounter. And so, being mindful of that, we are motivated not by their position, their possessions or what sort of demeanor we see in them, but only that they are Christ before us. Period. Especially the poor, the outcast, the infirm, the needy, the addicted, the down-trodden.
"Service" is a plain-sounding, overused word with multiple connotations to us. I saw a sign on a commercial truck that said "M.D.S. Service Is In Our Name..." M.D.S. stood for Miller Driving Services, thus the motto, "Service is in our name". Cute and catchy. There's a sector of business known as the "service industries", as over against :manufacturing", for example. Employees are trained to give "service with a smile" in order to create goodwill and keep the customer coming back. Mechanics have to "service" engines regularly with maintenance to keep them operating smoothly. Computers have "service ports" that are assigned for various operations and functions. All of these uses of the word "service" have something in common; providing for or fulfilling specific needs in or for another. The thought in these uses of the word "service" is "I do something for you and you do something for me, or pay me." For profit. That's not what I'm talking about.
When the spiritual realm breaks into our reality, "service" has to do with our basic act of worship, for if Jesus is indeed "in the other", to serve another is an act of worship. In Romans 12:1 Paul writes, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual service of worship." The "sacrifice" here implies ceasing from self-service or self-worship. There is nothing so transforming and uplifting than serving another in need.
Remember the last time you did a selfless act for a stranger? Remember the joy, the elation, the fulfillment, the peace that came with it? That is because to break our self-willed, imprisoned, me-first ego is to find, at least briefly, true freedom. It is to walk on Kingdom ground, to breathe in Kingdom air.
Imagine if you took radical steps to re-arrange your life so that you were ordered and organized around serving others by intention, rather than giving what time you have left over (there rarely is, when you do it that way), or resources or gifts or whatever makes you you, or your community who your community is, committed to the "Other"...radically.
There is a grown man in our parish who cries every time he talks about the backpack ministry that he started and grew from about 10 kids to over 100 kids in public schools in our community. They would have no food over the weekend other than what is secretly placed in their backpacks on Friday afternoon before they leave school. He cries because he has found the secret joy of selfless service. He cries because he knows we need to do more. He confronts hunger and abandonment at the personal level, and has inspired the people of this parish to join him in that confrontation. 1600 meals a month...and growing. It's a beginning.
"Service" is going and doing what we were designed by God to do. And that's why it brings such joy. And when we do that, many other "issues" and "differences" simply fall away. It's not enough to sit and be with God, or to think "correct" thoughts about God, or even to understand His word. Sometimes He is "out there". If you're looking for Him and can't seem to find Him, He is out there, waiting to be served. Service is the proof of love. The greatest of these is love.