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Finding our Ministry

posted Jan 15, 2014, 8:00 PM by Tom Harries   [ updated Jan 15, 2014, 8:00 PM ]

 Dear Friends,

I went out to Highland Park today for a quick ski today, before the bitter cold arrived. Highland has installed snowmaking equipment for their cross-country trails, and redesigned the trails as well. Because they have more than enough snow to work with, they are able to set nice, deep, solid tracks for us classic skiers. It was absolutely beautiful. Sun shown on bright white snow. Skiers everywhere, in fluorescent gear.

If only our path through life were so clearly laid out and firmly tracked. No worry about getting off course. Sure, there would still be some tough climbs. Sometimes the wax wouldn't hold, and you'd have to stop and redo it. Downhills could still be thrilling to the point of screaming. But we'd have little fear of taking the wrong trail, or getting lost. The tracks sweep us around the corners; all we'd have to do is lean in.

 For a few people, life seems to work that way. They just know from an early age what they want to do, they have the aptitude, and they do it. There may be big hills and some falls, but they know where they are going and they get there. Or God shows up in a burning bush and says, “Here's what I need you to do.” For most of us, though, the process is a lot messier and less precise. Israel had one Moses, one Aaron, and a whole lot of shepherds and potters and such, some of whom thought maybe they should have been carpenters instead.

How are we to find our way? How shall we advise our children and grandchildren?

Spiritual directors, including perhaps most famously Ignatius of Loyola, have pondered these questions for a thousand years. Alas, there is no magic spell to reveal one's singular correct path.  But they have refined a process of discernment that can be of some help. First, of course, any proposed route must be checked against the teaching of Jesus and the Prophets. Any route that harms other people or diminishes the common good or God's creation can be ruled out. On the other hand, routes that benefit creation, people, and the common good are to be preferred.

Many good trails exist. In choosing among them, we employ a turn of phrase by Fredrick Buechner so felicitous it has gone viral. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC) Jesus promises that the way of love and service will bring us joy. There may be steep hills, crazy swoops, and moments of terror, but overall our best ministry will be joyful. So go ahead. Do what you love to do. But, ask yourself, “How can this work (or play) that I love meet the world’s need?” Perhaps you will find that you need to clear an entirely new trail to bring those together. Or perhaps a route exists but more people are needed to keep it open.

May a good, crisp, bright trail open before you, and may your 2014 be filled with joyful service.

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