Source: Canadian Orthodox Messenger, Spring 2002
Recently I stepped into the dormitory shower stall, turned on the water and with shocked amazement realized that someone had changed the showerhead. The previous showerhead had provided a luscious cascade of water. Bud suddenly there was only a weak spray of mist; the old showerhead was gone! I stood in the light mist of the new showerhead, weeping. Sobbing. My whole childhood appeared in the shower stall – all the deprivation and abuse, all the pain. At the same time, I couldn’t believe that I was crying over a showerhead. Later, I watched as I pawed through the trash to see if I could find the showerhead. Me – pulling trash all over the floor, weeping as I sorted through used tissue paper, empty shampoo bottles, discarded plastic bags, half-eaten pizza crusts. This certainly was not consistent with my image of myself!
I saw the showerhead had become some kind of god for me, dispensing this little morning pleasure, this comfort in the harshness of seminary life. I wept and wept. Weeping over a showerhead! How could I substitute a stream of water for the living water and peace God offers? I saw that I needed to leave something behind – my old sense of deprivation and my attempt to be one step ahead of God in comforting myself. Somehow, by confronting my personal history and my relationship to it, I was brought into God’s peace. The next morning in the shower stall, I found myself free of the showerhead, free to turn to God for His peace and comfort and care.
|Photo by Nikolay Breev, http://www.photo.orthodoxy.ru|
I had been working on a homily I had to give in the seminary chapel on Luke 10:1-15. It struck me that Jesus’ teaching on missionary work included me, the me that had stood in the shower weeping. It included all of us who are struggling to turn to God, who are hoping to be useful in his work. In Luke, Jesus sends out seventy disciples in pairs. He tells them how their needs will be met, where they are to stay, and when they should leave a place. He reassures them, telling them how they will find food and lodging and how they will know when the message of the Gospel will be accepted. Jesus is also speaking to us about missionary work.
What seems most interesting about this passage is what Jesus tells us not to take and what He never mentions at all. First, He tells us what we must leave behind – our purse, bag, and sandals. We are to take nothing extra with us, no money, food, clothing or shoes. Unarmed, empty-handed, and guileless we are “lambs in the midst of wolves”. And this is how we are to step into the world – with this simplicity, this lack of pretension, this willingness to take nothing with us except what God provides.
The second part of what interest me in this passage of Luke is what Jesus never mentions at all. He never says what the disciples are to say. He gives them no instruction on how to share the Gospel. He tells them only how to greet people: “Peace be to this house. And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you.” (Lk 10:5-6)
What does this word “peace” mean? According to Fr. Paul Tarazi, peace is a characteristic of God. It is neither an absence of conflict nor the status quo. We can think of peace as similar to God’s energy, His attention that maintains and sustains all creation. Peace is not something we humans can create; we can merely be sensitive and available to its presence and workings. Peace belongs only to God. So, what we are told to look for in missionary work is this peace, this presence of God already working.
How can we recognize God’s peace? The first part of the text gives the answer: by our leaving certain other things behind, so that we can be receptive to it. This leaving things behind provides the space for God’s peace in us; when we know this peace in ourselves, then we can recognize it in others. We are called to look for and cling to this peace. Not to some showerhead that can unexpectedly disappear. God showed me that I had wanted the comfort of that cascading water more than I wanted His peace. I was horrified that part of me could be so blind. Clearly that part of me had never heard of Jesus Christ.
My homily became clearer for me. I saw that our missionary work begins as an inner journey. We are called to be missionaries to ourselves the moment we step out to bed each morning. We need to begin to ask the right questions of ourselves, to confront ourselves. Is God’s peace in me or is it just bouncing off me and returning to Him? Am I sensitive and available to God’s presence this moment? There are parts of me that have never heard of Jesus Christ; am I willing to recognize where God’s peace does not exist in me? Am I willing to be a missionary to those parts? What am I carrying that gets in the way?
As I presented my homily on inner missionary work, I felt my hands tremble with nervousness and fear. We have so many ideas of ourselves. We label ourselves as intelligent or stupid, as victim, as honest, as “spiritual”, etc. We have self-images we try to maintain – both negative and positive ones – and we feel naked without these. I looked out at the faces and saw that my need to appear a certain way was something else I had to leave behind.
How do we become available to God’s peace in order to be His missionaries? We first need to be missionaries to ourselves. We need to do some personal housecleaning, some re-ordering, peeling away the “me” that gets in the way in order to reveal the unique “me” that is made in God’s image. This unique “me” is the one I need to uncover and carry with me on my journeys; this one recognizes and flourishes in God’s peace and is able to recognize and share in that same peace that flourishes in others. This is the missionary “me”.
Our inner preparation includes practicing receptivity through daily meditation, by practicing a stillness to find our connection with God’s presence all around us. By seeing what gets in the way and learning to leave behind what is not useful in God’s work. Honestly is our most important tool.
We can also read the Gospel and contemplate God to know more truly who we are in His image, and to discern what is non-essential. And as we disentangle ourselves from unnecessary baggage, we can discover our authentic selves in Christ, to be freed from what gets in the way and weighs us down. Jesus assures us that he will take care of us and of the encounters with others throughout our journey this day. He will free us from the tyranny of showerheads and show us his peace. It is this peace we take on the missionary journey. However, we can only be missionaries to others if we are first willing to be missionaries to ourselves.