II Corinthians 4:1-2,5-7
Our scripture readings today, as well as sources which tell us about Gregory the Great, seem to point to the conclusion that the wise person – the true leader – is the one who takes what life gives and makes the best of it; not being content with a bad situation, but working to improve matters with joy and confidence in the future; not being complacent with a good situation, but working to maintain what is good and possibly even improve on it so that it can be passed on to others. As Paul writes to Corinth: “…since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”, as Jesus says: “…the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves…”, and as Gregory writes: ” good rulers…should share the troubles of the weak…” (Pastoral Care).
It is also apparent from our readings that the true leader gains wisdom by learning when to listen and when to speak. We all know how difficult it is to listen, especially to things we don’t want to hear. Maybe that’s why Benedict began his Rule with the instruction to “incline the ear of our heart”. Just as we are encouraged to listen with our hearts, Solomon advises us to speak with our hearts as he prays: “May God grant me to speak with judgment, and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received…for both we and our words are in his hand…”. Gregory sums up the need for listening and speaking wisely when he says that a leader should “be pure in thought, exemplary in conduct, discreet in keeping silence, profitable in speech.” (Pastoral Care)
As mush as we know how hard it is to listen wisely, it is even more difficult to be “discreet in keeping silence” and “profitable in speech”; to use words that build up instead of tear down, words that praise instead of belittle, and in those difficult times when we must correct others or tell them something they don’t want to hear, to do so with care instead of spite – speaking the truth in love. This wise use of words was what Benedict was talking about when he said that “those who live there should bless God and not grumble. Above all else we admonish them to refrain from grumbling. Or As Maya Angelou says : “Don’t ever whine. Whining makes you ugly.”
Gregory was not immune to the possibility of despairing, grumbling, whining, and feeling like giving up instead of working with confidence in God’s goodness. We get a glimpse of his thoughts as he slips them into a sermon: “Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters. I am forced to consider the affairs of the church and the monasteries. I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals. I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens. I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians…” (Homily on Ezekiel). It is good to know that someone of his stature was so honest about his stressful burden, and it is good to know that he didn’t give up. Perhaps he drew strength from the belief that he was shouldering the burden in order to make things a little better for those around him. Perhaps he kept coming back to the realization that no matter the size of the task in front of him, God was there with him.
A book in (Kitchen Table Wisdom – Rachel Naomi Remen) our library talks about a woman looking at a statue of Shiva, and was perplexed at the figure of a little man doubled over under the weight of Shiva’s foot, looking at a leaf in the ground. She interpreted the figure to mean that God was dancing on the man’s back, and if he were not so absorbed at looking at the ground, he would realize that God was there with him. That interpretation is not orthodox, but we can learn form it. Like Gregory, we may be “no longer collected…and concerned with so many matters”. Like the little man in the statue, we nay feel doubled over by a great weight. Like Paul, we nay feel “afflicted in every way…”. But if we so choose, we can look around and see that God is there dancing – not to taunt us, but to encourage us.
We don’t have to drop everything in order to dance with God. The world around us is beautiful and worthy of attention. Whatever jobs lay ahead of us, we can use our minds, our muscles, our skills, and our thoughts and words to make the world a little easier for ourselves and others. May we strive to acquire wisdom to do so. May we take some of Paul’s advice and let God shine in our hearts, putting treasure into the clay jars that are ourselves, and may we come to know that the clay jars are just as beautiful and precious as the treasure inside. AMEN