Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Humility and Gentleness: A Reflection on Scripture*

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Vis Companion

I am preparing for 12pm mass this Friday, October 22, 2010, at the Visitation Monastery. Goodness, how I look forward to this experience in the living room of the Vis Sister's home! It's not like any other service I am able to attend. (I have written of this in the past.) Today, I turn my mind and heart to the scripture readings for this upcoming liturgy. I consider how this text is speaking to me.

I slow my mind down. I read. I work to defer judgment. I make note of lines that stand out. I connect these words to lived experiences. I register what emotion they elicit. I wonder to myself. I pose questions. I speculate on what Love's message is for me. I consider my faith community and possibilities of this text for the world at large. It's a prayerful, critical response process to the Bible, this holy and sacred literature.

I notice.....from Paul's letter to the Ephesians:

"live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness
preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace"

I notice....from the Gospel according to Luke:

[Jesus said to the crowds]:

“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;

When Paul speaks of living in a manner worthy of the call a person has received -- with a humble and gentle nature, my mind goes initially to St. Francis de Sales, our co-founder. St. Francis so beautifully exemplified gentleness in his life and expressed his motivation for living his faith out this way. He spoke of this virtue as flowing from and modeled by our Trinitarian God:

"I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove;" -St. Francis de Sales

Next, Desmond Tutu flashes in my mind. I am reminded of how struck I was in the Spring of 2008, when I saw him on two occasions speaking in the Twin Cities: his sweet, spirited, and simple demeanor. He exemplified humility and gentleness, a peaceful presence in the midst of some charged circumstances and challenging questions - posed to him in the large venues in which he spoke. "What do you think of Black on Black crime?" asked a young man in the Red Wing juvenile detention center. "What are your feelings or thoughts about President Bush?" asked the contentious (?) MPR host, Kerry Miller. Oh, goodness! To each, the archbishop leaned in, smiled and offered a response from his first hand experience that was kind and thoughtful. I can only imagine St. Francis' thoughts about Archbishop Tutu's responses, which were so poised, honorable, and filled with integrity, humility, and characteristically gentle humor. (But this story is an entirely other blog.)

I hear St. Paul's words as the writer extends them: "preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" and consider the South African Noble Peace Prize winner an exemplary model of what Paul writes.

My heart leaps a bit thinking how connected Luke's words are in the Gospel reading to those scribed to the Ephesians. The peace process that we know of in our souls, in our most core, essential spirit, strikes me as what Christ wants to remind us of, and what Paul invites us to align with, given our blessed and unique calls.

"You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;" Jesus says, "Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" and “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?"

Christ validates our intuitive knowing, alongside of, or stemming from, our way of moving through the world based on our observations. And then He challenges us to apply these ways of knowing - and being - to our communications in charged and challenging spaces.

"[M]ake an effort to settle the matter," He instructs. It feels connected to Paul's validation of our vocations, our callings here, as Christians, as people of love, justice, peace: "[L]ive in a manner worthy of the call you have received... bearing with one another through love."

Do you know of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings of a post-apartheid South Africa? Can you recall the role Archbishop Tutu played in these public sessions where victim and perpetrator convened, crimes were confessed, and forgiveness extended? Years of violence, civil rights violations, racist separatist laws were acknowledged. Human rights violators began to look compassionately at their own cruel actions. Can you fathom this kind of work abroad? How about in your own community? Does your imagination and faith allow for practical applications of this kind of merciful, honorable, and gentle work? In your church? Home? Your own heart? Do you believe you have a calling to be such a person of peace, justice, reflection and reconciliation?

I stop here and smile, my heart full of possibilities where these texts are concerned, and how they might be realized in my immediate life. Any grievance I have filed against another, any angry action I have taken against another, I have room to see. I close this reflection imagining St. Francis' spirit alive and guiding me, the sweet laugh and peaceful model of a living Desmond Tutu inspiring me. I will continue to try to live my call as a woman of hope, peace, justice, prayer, and action.

How does this scripture speak to you today?

Happy Contemplating!

*This was originally written and posted at the Visitation Monastery Minneapolis blog site.

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