Faith Works 1-16-16
More or less, slowly considered
At our church, we're looking at the Biblical passages and stories about how Jesus "grew in wisdom and in strength," accounts that come after the better-known Christmas readings are over.
Growth is obviously a good thing. But to grow in wisdom and strength: does that also mean "more"?
For a child, to get bigger, taller, healthier, you're usually looking for more weight, more height, more resilience. If a young person is getting wiser, that basically indicates that they know more, think more, can process more.
So growth is obviously more, right?
Or is it?
If you keep wanting more, are worried about less, and grab another piece of gum even when you already have three in your pocket . . . and you don't chew gum! . . . is that what a mature adult does, or a child?
If being at the front of the line, sitting in the preferred seat, getting praise from the teacher is what drives you, that sounds almost a little childish, doesn't it?
In the recent snow, I had the misfortune to be out and on our highways that morning. When traffic was backed up from multiple wrecks, I saw some cars and trucks jostling and angling to get up and ahead and move around: even when it seemed quite apparent that the multi-car accident was caused by someone pushing a little too hard. And when I was in normally flowing traffic, there would be vehicles that would jerk out into the passing lane, which was almost invisible under a coating of rapidly freezing slush, the speeding cars fish-tailing their way around we (somewhat) slower moving drivers. I winced as they sped, skiddingly, towards the oncoming overpass, and blessedly only saw an increase in the oscillation, not a complete wreck . . . but I drove as if that's what was about to happen in front of me.
Is getting there fastest the most mature, best way to go through life, let alone an Ohio winter?
Getting older means, in some very real ways, slowing down. We tend to rail against this tendency of the flesh, but . . . is there perhaps a spiritual lesson for us in that? Is there a correlation between maturity and slowing down, not speeding up?
I'm a busy guy, I won't deny it. But I hope and pray that I keep some perspective on what's worth moving quickly through, and when it's time to pause, and breath, and be. My family knows that I have an irritating habit of trying to get others to notice sunsets and spectacular cloud formations; my friend Dick Shiels and I have gotten a chance this past year to learn how to slow down enough to actually see the movement of the moon across the sky, rising or setting, out at the Octagon Earthworks.
Yes, you can actually get to the place where you see the movement. But it requires that YOU slow down to the speed of the celestial spheres, which from our perspective is slow indeed. Dick may have the advantage of having retired, so he's a bit better at it, but we both enjoy trying to teach this obscure skill to others.
Is it growth to be satisfied with enough, with what you have, with where you are? I think it is. And as I'm moving towards my fourth anniversary in the pulpit at Newark Central Christian, I'm acutely aware that in ministry in general, the average tenure of a clergyperson is just over four years. For me, I'm just starting to get the hang of the rhythms and cycles and habits of this congregation where I serve.
And the studies done show that for congregations, growth and health for the community as a whole usually only comes to fuller fruition after about seven years. That makes sense to me, even in my impatient moments (and ask our board, I do have them!).
Growth may not only come through patience and waiting and acceptance of what is, but it also can't just be aggression and acquisition and advancement. And I think the balance for any of us, and for our communities, leans towards the more peaceful practices. In diet, in exercise, in spiritual discipline and financial health: we have to find a place of peace, from which we can grow as we ought.
And learn to watch the moon clamber branch by branch across the outline of a tree on the horizon. It moves, and you can grow your perceptions to see it, but it takes time. And peace.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him how you are growing in peaceableness at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.