To Care and Not to Care

 

Lent began two weeks ago and unless your church chose to give up meetings for Lent (which, by the way, is a wonderful idea and a nurturing spiritual discipline!), you will find yourself in a church board meeting or two during the Lenten Season.  What gifts does Lent have to offer church boards?

Many traditions focus on the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew as a place to start.  These chapters are often seen as personal devotional material and can be overlooked by groups – especially committees and boards – as an essential resource for their work together.  Consider Matthew 6:25-34:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[j] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[k] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God[l] and his[m]righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

  • What is the level of anxiety in your congregation today?
  • How does your church board live into the words “Do not worry…”? How do you balance those words with the responsibility you hold as a church leader?

The first section of T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” brings these themes into conversation with one another.  Written over several years and published in final form in 1930, Eliot’s poem is a meditation on the conscious choice to pursue God. Indeed, Eliot called it his “conversion poem,” since he became a baptized and confirmed member of the Anglican church in the period it was written.

 

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Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope

I no longer strive to strive towards such things

(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)

Why should I mourn

The vanished power of the usual reign?

 

Because I do not hope to know again

The infirm glory of the positive hour

Because I do not think

Because I know I shall not know

The one veritable transitory power

Because I cannot drink

There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

 

Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual only for one time

And only for one place

I rejoice that things are as they are and

I renounce the blessed face

And renounce the voice

Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice

 

And pray to God to have mercy upon us

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again

Let these words answer

For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

 

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly

But merely vans to beat the air

The air which is now thoroughly small and dry

Smaller and dryer than the will

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

 

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

 

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Right at the end of this section is a proposed addition to the guidance we find in Matthew, when Eliot writes:

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

 

Church boards that can discern how “to care and not to care” will find their time together one of holiness and nurture.

 

  • What is the struggle in this poem about?
  • What does the poet accept and understand here, as expressed in all the “Becauses” of this poem? Put another way, what is the poet’s hard-won orientation or stance toward himself and toward God?
  • Is this a stance that you as a church board can or should cultivate?
  • How can we at once care and not care, as care-takers of our congregation? How can we discern, as a board, which is which?
  • As a group of church leaders, what do you make of the call to “sit still”?

 


 

This material is a lot to use at one time…so we will take next week off and be back with a new posting on Thursday April 4.

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