victim of comfort...

Yesterday's bout vertigo has come to a blessed end. During my down time I read two quotes from Jean Vanier that continue to swim around my heart. The first describes a reality I have come to know intimately:  the second calling.  

Those who come close to people in need do so first of all in a generous desire to help them and bring them relief; they often feel like saviors and put themselves on a pedestal. But once in contact with them, once touching them, establishing a loving and trusting relationship with them, they mystery unveils itself. At the heart of the insecurity of people in distress is the presence of Jesus. And so they (we) discover the sacrament of the poor and enter the mystery of compassion. People who are poor seem to break down the barriers of powerfulness, of wealth, of ability, and of pride as they pierce the armor the human heart builds to protect itself.

Vanier, who has 50+ years of living with the most marginalized and forgotten people of the world at L'Arche, does not romanticize this ministry. It is often grueling work without obvious consolation - especially when we're operating from our first calling. A generous and merciful heart is where we all start, but this place is fundamentally self-centered. That we don't comprehend or embrace this yet is not our fault. It is how the heart matures. But all too often this realization is painful - humiliating - frustrating. It confronts us with our own inner greed and exposes our insecurities. Small wonder that many good-hearted people quit giving of themselves when this happens.  We blame the poor rather than own our own wounds and move on to another romanticized encounter or else retreat into ourselves in cynicism. Joni Mitchell put this into song on "The Last Time I Saw Richard," the closing track on Blue.

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68, 
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday 
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe 
You laugh, he said you think you're immune, go look at your eyes 
They're full of moon You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you 
All those pretty lies, pretty lies 
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies 
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies 



Cesar Chavez used to talk about this too, but he spoke from the perspective of an immigrant farm worker: when the going got rough, he used to say, the nice "church" people always quit because they became afraid or bored or challenged to give up their comfort. That is why poor people need their own social justice networks.  Vanier's point resonates with me: our first calling is always a combination of generous altruism mixed with undisclosed selfishness. If we stay within this first calling, we remain spiritually and emotionally an adolescent.

The second quote describes his own experience pushing through to a second calling:

... when we accept that we cannot do big or heroic things for Jesus, we face a time of renunciation, humiliation and humility... we are no longer appreciated. If the first passage is made at high noon, under a shining sun, the second call is often made at night... little did I know that I was on the road to an amazing discovery, a gold mine of truth, where the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor would be brought together in community and find peace, where those who were rejected could heal and transform those who rejected them.

In another text, he amplifies this saying that the second calling "reveals to an age obsessed with achievement that the essential value of each person lies not in their intelligence, but in the wisdom of the heart. God has chosen to manifest himself in a particular way in people with disabilities, through their fragility and the simplicity of their hearts." And what I have experienced is that if you stick around long enough - do some of your inner work, too (knowing that it is never over) - this second calling is revealed as a ministry of tender presence. This ministry looks and feels very different from the first fundamentally because it is not all about us. Then Vanier writes 38 simple words that I find inspirational:

We are all weak and needy in some way. We all have our vulnerabilities, our limits and or disabilities. When we recognize our weaknesses, we can ask for help, we can work together (knowing) that we need each other..

Let me suggest that this revelation is personally wonderful but professionally costly.  Many in our churches don't want to name and own their vulnerabilities any more than we do; and they are profoundly uncomfortable with a "wounded healer," too. Not that ministry is where we do our own therapy, not at all. But the social disease of professionalism and business metrics has poisoned the culture of Christ's church in ways that are insidious:  We want results, goddammit, not a ministry of presence. To which the gospel says:

Jesus did not seek to become a king so that he could create a new, just society in which each person would be properly respected (with measurable results.) Rather, he took the downward path of humility in order to become one with the wounded. Paul invited his disciples in Philippi to take the same path:

     Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
     who, though he was in the form of God,
     did not regard equality with God
     as something to be exploited,
     but emptied himself,
     taking the form of a slave,
     being born in human likeness.
     And being found in human form,
     he humbled himself
     and became obedient to the point of death -
     even death on a cross.

This second calling holds a lot for us to ponder, yes?  I have been consciously wrestling with it for over twelve years now - intensely doing so for the past three. There is much to hold in prayer. Much to give up to God. Much to question. Yet its core resonates with me and causes my heart to sing.

credits:  Pinterest

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