In one of my books on the lives of saints, which I usually read in conjunction with the daily office, Mary Slessor was commemorated.  She was a woman born into a working class Presbyterian family in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1848.  In 1875 she went as a teacher to a mission in Calabar, Nigeria, where she served until her death in 1915.  What struck me was a couple of  phrases from Richard Symonds’ “Above Rubies” (about her life):  “Partly as a result of her lack of formal education, particularly in Presbyterian theology, Mary Slessor took a broad-minded view of local a beliefs and customs when she arrived in Calabar, and as a result acquired an unusual understanding of them.”  “Mary Slessor’s religion is quite as interesting as the work which it inspired.  Although she recollected that as a girl ‘hell fire’ had driven her into the kingdom, she found it a kingdom of love and tenderness and mercy, and never sought to bring anyone into it by shock.  ‘Fear is not worship,’ she said, ‘nor does it honor God.'”

Today I read an excerpt from Aelred of Rievaulx’ “On Spiritual Friendship” which might speak to folks at St. George’s (where we are interested in forming spiritual friendships):  “What happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans!”

And then I read an excerpt from Urban T. Holmes III’s “Spirituality for Ministry” in which he talked about “acedia” (“the devil of the noonday sun” or simple spiritual laziness) as the besetting sin (as seen by the desert fathers).  He saw this as the root of what he saw as the besetting sin of pastors:  a refusal to heed the calling to be the instrument of spiritual growth.  Too often, he said, we become (in Carlyle Marney’s words) a “hand tamed by the gentry.”  Many ordained people quickly lose a sense of the excitement of the spiritual quest.  He suggests that we are obsessed with “warm sins” like sex and gluttony, but that the sins that should really concern us the “cold sins” that are the product of apathy.

I realize this is rather scattershot, all over the place (inclusive and love based religion, partners in the spiritual life and the dangers of a passionate calling becoming just a job to be done), but the themes resonate in me.  I think this is why I continue to read about and from the lives of the saints.  Their lives, at least in some part, overlap my life and speak to my circumstances.  They speak to me and they feed me.

I know that I could easily find much more in their lives that (at least at this point in my life) does not speak to me or seem to feed me.  But these are people who, at least in part, are walking the same path I am walking.  And even their failings speak to my journey.

For me, I suspect, the challenge is not so much a loss of passion for what I do (though I do recognize this challenge in my own life and that of colleagues) as the discipline needed to actually move forward in my spiritual life (and not just be excited by the possibilities).  And outward actions, though needed, do not always reflect real spiritual movement or growth.  But I remind myself:  all of us fall short of the good we wish and all of us choose to do things we know we should not do.  That’s why we cannot rely on ourselves.  We need God and spiritual companions and community.  But the spiritual life is less about what we fail to do than it is about what we actually do manage to do.  God is probably less concerned about the prayers I fail to say than about the prayers I actually do pray.  I’m sure I miss countless opportunities to act for God every day in my life.  But God is probably more focused on how to help me move forward through the opportunities and I see and take every day.

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