“A brother must endeavor to witness to our Redeemer’s love with quietness, patience, humility, charity, courage and prayer, knowing that it is not he who shall finally bring the light, but only that he shall become a messenger for the One who is the light.” — Of the life of a brother, Rule of BSG
I ponder this statement from our Rule probably more often than any other, since it acts as a roadmap for me on whether I am living as God intends and as best benefits those I am called to serve. It is no small feat to read these words without self-judgment or spiritual pride. But, it is a marker that I find very helpful for asking the right questions.
The one I always trip on is “humility.” I can never claim humility for myself. Once I do, I have lost it. The best I can often hope for is that I can lay claim to the desire for humility. I am often disappointed. But I do continue trying, hoping, forging ahead with the realization of how little I really know about what God desires.
Quietness is also a difficult one for me. Just ask anyone who knows me well! But I have learned over the years that the biggest impact I can make comes more often not from what I say, but from what I am willing to leave unsaid. My husband can vouch for that.
Listening is so much more valuable to someone who is hurting than anything we can say. Quietness often comes to me after prayer. As someone who says the Daily Office, it should not be surprising that it does not come during prayer. There are so many words. But there is a rhythm to them that, more often than not, leads to silence – to stillness and quiet. The call to quietness is also about how we walk through the world. It is about how loudly we voice our opinions, or how intrusive we are in a world occupied by others. Quietness calls us to be mindful of that, so that we may be gentle presences in a world that is often hard edged and relentless.
Patience is something I am not very good at. I try, God knows. But patience is learned over time, and I hope I still have quite a bit of that left to learn it. I am least patient with myself. But, of course, it has to start there before it can truly be extended to others. With others, I am not necessarily patient, but I try to be kind. There is a difference. Patience does not seethe after the fact that someone has not done things in my time or in my way. Patience understands that my time and my way are the least of the worlds concerns. Least of all, God’s. I do know, however, that in God’s Kingdom, the only thing we have in absolute, unlimited abundance – is time. All things will be well.
Charity is one that I think I understand and live pretty well. That is because I understand that charity is not about what we give, but how we give it. When we understand that our lives are not our own, but God’s; when we recognize that everything we have is a gift; when we know that our purpose is to love and serve – then charity becomes like breathing. It is un-self-conscious, natural, and necessary to our health. Charity is a natural response to gratitude. It is concerned with others before ourselves. Charity recognizes that other people are a gift.
Courage is not the absence of fear. It is to act in spite of fear. There is not much I am afraid of these days. Least of all the two driving fears that most of us have – not getting what we want, or losing what we have. Courage comes from letting go. None of it is mine anyway. It’s all just a gift to begin with. Courage comes from reflecting on my life – all of the times I was afraid – and seeing that it all worked out in the end anyway. Courage requires trust. I have learned to trust God. If not to provide, then at least to give me strength. That is more than enough.
Prayer is the place where all of these things start. Without prayer, I have nothing. Without prayer, my understanding of my own experience with God would be impossible. I don’t claim to know what God is, who God is, what God wants except as these things relate to my own experience with God in prayer. Sometimes, my experience of God in my life coincides with what the church says. Sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why I don’t always agree with the things my church chooses to do – or not to do. It is why sometimes the language the church uses about God seems to me to fall so terribly short. But it is also fair that what the church teaches – sometimes – really does coincide with how God works in my life. And that is why Jesus’ revelation of God as Love really resonates with me.
As a religious, I take prayer very seriously as the vehicle within which I will discover God in my life. In the case of our Gregorian virtues, I know that prayer is the means by which I will, one day, reach them. Quietness, patience, humility, charity, courage…all these wonderful gifts of the Spirit. Our Rule, a roadmap for reaching them. But as much as prayer might be a means to these ends – prayer IS the end in itself. Because it is there that I find God and come close enough to carry the residue of the encounter with me into the world.
And if it doesn’t benefit the world then what, after all, is the point of it?
- Br. Karekin Madteos Yarian, BSG