As I come to the end of my internship, I am required to reflect on the whole process, and to consider how and where I have grown and what I have learned along the way. The difference between my two placements was significant in many ways, from the style of worship and leadership to the age demographic and size of the congregation. Equally, what lies ahead for me is another kettle of fish altogether!
Considering all that I have learned and all that I still have to learn, I find I am reminded of a book called The Four Agreements. Written by a South American shaman, Don Miguel Ruiz, it suggests four simple attitudes or agreements for living well and faithfully. They are:
- I will not make assumptions
- I will not take anything personally
- I will be impeccable with my words
- I will always give my best.
While these are simple, they are clearly not easy, but as I look back on the last two years, I see how each of these agreements has either been a life lesson reinforced or else has stood me in good stead.
How easy it would be to assume that my first placement would be my most rewarding. To stay in my home by the beach, to grow and deepen the friendships and relationships of seven years standing, to play a part in the development of new initiatives in a congregation and parish full of possibilities – so much familiar and comforting continuity! And how easy to assume that coming to an urban congregation less than half the size, with few youth or children would be less full of possibilities – but such assumptions would be terribly misleading! We human beings so often approach life with resistance, we begin with an inner NO, and we must be coaxed or reassured or flattered into YES. Making no assumptions means choosing to begin with the YES and responding from openness. Jesus tells us this same thing when he said ‘Do not judge’, not meaning for us to make no judgements about right and wrong, but rather ‘do not begin with judgement – do not make assumptions’.
But, this is hard to do if you are going to take everything personally – another trait that seems to be hard wired into our first responses. When I first came to St. Aidan’s, I was welcomed with warmth and sincerity and I hope that you also felt the warmth of my pleasure in being placed here. Despite that, the grief of leaving our Maraetai home, and the transitory nature of our year here meant that to begin with I felt some reluctance to truly give myself to this community. It would have been easy for you to feel slighted, to take my slow immersion into the community as rejection or dislike – to take it personally. There is always more story to any situation or relationship than we are aware of, and most of the time people’s reactions to us are not actually about us at all. Not taking things personally helps us to recognise when the other person is acting out of some other story. Then we are free to respond out of love rather than take offense. And it helps us to practice humility, to admit when we are wrong.
Being impeccable with words is perhaps the toughest agreement to live into. Ruiz chose the word ‘impeccable’ with care, as its root is from the Latin word peccatus, meaning sin. To be impeccable with words means taming the tongue, as Jesus said ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no’. This is not about using God’s name as a way to add emphasis or to condemn others. It is about taking care with what comes out of your mouth. It’s about holding back words that would wound, not only out of compassion for the hearer, but Ruiz maintains that hurtful words wound both the speaker and the hearer. It means being thoughtful about what you say and how you say it so that you can stay open to the YES. This is a growing edge for me, and probably will be for my whole life!
The final agreement, always to give your best, does sound a bit like the boy scout pledge, but doing your best means giving your heart, your YES, your love to whatever you are engaging with. If we can’t give our best, if we bring resentment or hope of reward into our actions and relationships then everything becomes a chore or an obligation, subject to our inner balance sheet, and we expect something in return. Alternatively, if we bring our energy and attention to whatever we are doing, we are no longer engaged in duty or chore – we are taking care of things. We are making love take shape and form whether that is a clean toilet, a report written, a cake baked or a quiet prayer. This might sound exhausting and impossible, but there are no supply and demand shortages in the economy of Love. The gospel is clear that in God’s kingdom there is no fair wage for a fair day’s work. There is grace. There is abundant grace. And there is deep compassion. When we give our best, we are giving from the eternally flowing river of Love.
I hope that I have given my best here at St. Aidan’s – at least more often than not – and I am grateful and touched by the bests that you have given me. It has been a privilege to journey with you over the last year and to share in the life of this community. I will continue to hold you in my prayers as I move on to the next phase and context of ministry and as you move forward into the New Year. May the God of Love guide you in openness and may the river of Love carry you and flow through you as you live into whatever the next phase for this community holds.