Friday, May 31, 2013

that we may carry out our work


Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart
and a wise mind, that I may
carry out my work according to your will.
Save me from all false desires, from pride,
greed, envy and anger, and let me
accept joyfully every task you set before me.
Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad and those unable to work. 
Help me to discern honestly
my own gifts that I may do the things
of which I am capable, and happily
and humbly leave the rest to others.
Above all, remind me constantly that
I have nothing except what you give me,
and can do nothing except
what you enable me to do.
--Jacob Boehme


When I was in China (the second year, 2002), I found this prayer and used it every morning to begin my days. It was the first time in my life I successfully practiced the discipline of daily prayer. Going into it, I knew that I needed a routine that was simple, memorizable, and adaptable, because I was going to use it every day.
I can still remember going out on the little balcony with my cup of coffee and beginning my day with this prayer and my journal in hand.

When I think about what "giftedness" means, or being called, or being led into ministry or theology, I think of this prayer, and the humble shoemaker/philosopher/theologian who wrote it. I think about these lines, from the heart of this prayer:
Let me accept joyfully every task you set before me: making shoes, changing diapers, washing dishes, picking up toys and dirty socks--and theologizing. I suspect that Boehme, like me, chafed a bit at the daily tasks, the ones that interfered with the musing and pondering and writing. I suspect that like me he had a hard time figuring out how to joyfully accept the tasks that felt like distractions--and still make time to joyfully accept the task of articulating the ceaseless wonderings about the divine that is theologizing. 
Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad, and those unable to work: whether shoes or theology, what we do is in service to those around us. Some people need shoes. Some people need theology. Or maybe everyone needs both at some point--but whatever it is that we do, we offer it in service to answer a need. 
Help me to discern honestly my own gifts that I may do the things of which I am capable, and happily and humbly leave the rest to others: the flip side of understanding what you have to offer in service to those around you is knowing what you don't. The beauty of community, the beauty of the church as Paul describes it in the image of the one body of many parts, is that we may also trust that we may indeed happily and humbly leave the rest to others, others who are also discerning their own gifts so that they may do the things of which they are capable.
It is impossible to say how powerful, how transformative this prayer is for me, a woman in the Church of Christ. The humility of these words, the earnestness and openness of them, help me loosen my grip on the preconceptions about my own giftedness I carry around with me--the preconceptions I fight against and resent, and the preconceptions that I cherish in opposition. Save me from all false desires, from pride, greed, envy and anger.

After awhile, I can feel a new peace settle in, taking the place of an anxiety so built into my sense of self that most days I'm not even aware it's there. Help me discern honestly, and let me do the things I'm capable of. That, and no more. The rest is for others.

And if there are those who cannot believe that I do what I do as the result of honest discernment, and sincere desire to therefore accept joyfully the tasks set before me--well, what's that got to do with anything, really?

The opening and ending words of the prayer frame the answer to that. 
Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart and a wise mind, that I may carry out my work according to your will.
Above all, remind me constantly that I have nothing except what you give me, and can do nothing except what you enable me to do.
What gifts we have, sisters, we have been given by God. For we have nothing except what God gives us, and we can do nothing except what God enables us to do. And our prayer must then be, let us carry out our work according to God's will.

2 comments:

motherfulkser said...

I needed to read this. Thank you.

motherfulkser said...

Needed this today. Thank you.