Sunday, August 12, 2007

With Loins Girt and Lamps Burning

A Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Luke 12:32-48

My mother taught me to "suffer in silence." For her this concept was applied to two main spheres of life. The first was the silent suffering of being a woman - especially a beautiful woman (eyebrow plucking, tight girdles, electrolysis treatments for nasty facial hair, etc.). To any complaint she would reply, "You have to suffer to be beautiful." The second predominant application of the adage was for the personal suffering required in order not to offend people or not to indicate in any way that you thought too highly of yourself. In these contexts, silent suffering was a requirement for self-protection - an image thing.

Silent suffering always seemed unfair to me. It seemed that I got swallowed up by it - my feelings, desires, preferences and all concern for equity and mutuality in relationship were subsumed in favor of appearances and/or the desires of others.

In today's Gospel Jesus instructs:

Sell your belongings and give alms...Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like the servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks...Much will be required of the person who is given much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

What I hear in this teaching today is a call to silent suffering; the silent suffering of accepting what is, of doing ones duty, of the generous availability of the servant, of patience in a time of waiting. This call is naturally repugnant to me because, by virtue of my all too human history, I have been left with a bad taste in my mouth from force feeding in childhood. Rejection of such a call to self-sacrifice is also the product of cultural conditioning in an affluent society and exposure to the "me generation" as well as the high value Americans assign to rugged individualism. It is so necessary to recognize these sources of resistance in order to move along the way to conversion of heart.

Jesus's call to quiet, patient, waiting and service without the usual comforts ("Sell your belongings and give alms...") is an appeal for silent suffering - and I balk at it. What is required for conversion is a maturity that removes me from the resentments of childhood and allows for reinterpretation of honored familial, societal and cultural values. I must ask, "How can I wait for the Master with less self-assertion and less preoccupation with the needs of my ego?" "How can I reset the default position in my own psyche to accept personal deprivation or sacrifice (silent suffering) as a condition for establishing the reign of the Kingdom of God in my heart, in my family, in my community, in my nation and in my world?
Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be.
Luke 12:34

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