September 3, 2016
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27)
Jesus does not condemn prudence and planning, but there is a clear contrast between the radical call to separation from the familiar and the comfortable (family, possessions, life as we have known it), and the natural tendency we have to sit down and figure out our chances of success before doing anything hasty. The calculating builder and the prevaricating king stand in opposition to the disciple of Jesus, who cannot afford to put too much stock in five-year plans, cost-benefit analyses and projections. Too much attention to risks and nothing will be done.
Jesus says: do not be afraid of ridicule, defeat, loss and failure. Dare to mount the tightrope without a safety net. Dare to go out on a limb. Bet your whole life on me. Risk it all. Lose it all. I am worth it.
Who would do such a thing? Only one with a wild and reckless love.
What does it mean to carry the cross? St Benedict lays it out:
“His heart quietly embraces suffering, and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.”
(Rule of St Benedict, 7.35-6)
A quiet embrace. No drama and no tears – at least not for all to see. Not a heroic and self-aggrandizing crusade. Not kicking against the goad. Not trying to fix everything (and everyone). Not collapsing under the weight. Not resisting, refusing, rebelling, but rather opening the door to let suffering come in and take a seat at the table. I am called to embrace the rhythms, needs and complaints of my own body, mind and heart and the limitations of my particular circumstances: this place, this work, these companions. Can I accept becoming a load-bearing element in my community, without weakening or seeking escape, or taking refuge in resentment? Can I embrace, like a mother, the burdens that life brings? – and the most important burden is the human burden, which cannot be set down.
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not
put it down.”
(Mary Oliver, “Heavy”)
They say that children help their parents to grow up by calling forth from them, through their helplessness, a response of loving self-sacrifice. In the monastery we need this too. It is offered to us through another kind of family life and another kind of dependence. It is all too easy to rationalize a refusal to bear the burden of responsibility, of being needed, depended upon, and even taken for granted. After all, we have no children - in the flesh, at least. But such a refusal would be a shame and a loss of the deep and transforming gift of Christian community.
Becoming a mother hurts – in spirit more than in body – because I have to die to the self I thought I knew, and to life as I have known it up until now. Something new is called for. Do I have what it takes?
I can choose to carry my burden of suffering with reverence – all suffering calls for reverence – but lightly enough that there may be room for other burdens, the burdens of others. Do I dare to become that warm, nurturing and reliable presence we all yearn for from a mother, whether real or imagined? It is not for me to coddle or control, but to be there, solidly, faithfully, with a little space in my heart for another’s pain.
Discipleship, monasticism, motherhood – who would take this on, knowing (or intimating) the cost? Only one with a wild and reckless love.