Living Gently in a Violent world
When we read the Gospel stories, we soon discover that the good news Jesus brings is invested mostly in the powerless and weak ones: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’; ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ ‘Blessed are the meek’. These ‘weak ones’ are the ‘blessed ones’. How do we know he is the Messiah? It is by the company he keeps and the way he keeps that company. Those who are in need find healing. Those defenceless ones are the ones who are part of the new economy of God.
Jean Vanier writes in Living Gently in a Violent World- the prophetic witness of weakness, coauthored with Stanley Hauerwas, that not only was this Jesus method but it is also the way of the church.
“The weak are indispensible to the church. Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body…Paul writes that those parts of the body that are weakest and least presentable are indispensible to the body. In other words people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensible to the church. I have never seen this as the first line of a book on ecclesiology (that is, on the nature of the Church). Who believes this? But this is the heart of faith, of what it means to be the church.” (p 74)
This past Sunday, Chris and his mother came to share with us. Chris has cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheel chair, and communicates by moving his head slightly from side to side and using his eyes to direct attention to letters of the alphabet sewed onto the cushion by his head.
But he can also laugh! And laugh he did as his mother shared his story and as he helped with the children’s story. He exemplified this powerless gentleness that Vanier points to. The tenderness his mother showed for her 24 year old son and the way he responded to her and to the congregation illustrated this to me and to those of us who were there.
This affirmed what Vanier writes “love does not mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness…Community is made of the gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made up of the small gestures, of service and sacrifices which say ‘I love you and I am happy to be with you. This is gentleness.” (p. 77)
It is in our commonplace, human relationships that are day in and day out expressions of the care for the other – whether they can repay or not, whether they are accepting or not, whether it even seems to make a difference or not – that this is lived out. This is what we are invited to do as followers of Jesus. We too simply use these gentle, weak tools of love, patience, and grace and live them into our relationships.
This however is something that takes time and action on our part for the“gentleness is a vital dimension of the kingdom of God but it is a learned skill that requires work and demands patience, slowness and timefulness. Such work means that we have to become ‘friends of time’, a patient people who recognize that ‘we have all time we need to do what needs to be done’”.(19)
This last phrase caught me off guard and gave me hope. “We have all the time we need to do what needs to be done”. We are the recipients of that grace and healing and through the gifts that we have received we are able to share them with others. Our responsibility is to be faithful with what God has given us. Nothing more. The grace we have been given, the gifts we have received, the patience and love we have been offered – it is out of these that we are invited to respond. And the promise of God through Christ is that this is enough. This weak, gentle, humble, non-violent love will change the world.