I've had an incredibly sweet week in my devotional life. I've been using a website called Sacred Space, a prayer site run by the Irish Jesuits. Every day, it takes you through a 10-15 minute prayer journey that includes a passage on which to read and reflect, and then there's another page called Living Space that includes other suggested readings and commentary on those passages. In spite of occasional theological differences (as I am not Catholic), I have been richly blessed by this site - God has spoken to me so clearly and compassionately through it this week.
A phrase from one of the commentaries earlier this week really captured my attention: the 'poverty of availability'. The commentary is on Mark 1:29-39, which tells the story of the time Jesus went with his disciples to stay at Peter's house, and found Peter's mother-in-law very ill with a fever. Jesus healed her immediately, and she was able to serve them and offer them the hospitality they needed. That evening, the whole city showed up at their door, and Jesus spent hours ministering to the sick and the demon-possessed. Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus got up and went off on His own to pray for awhile. Early the next morning, his disciples came looking for Him, to tell Him that everyone was looking for Him - but He told them it was time to move on to the other villages, so He could preach there too. "It is why I have come," He said.
Jesus had been preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath when an evil spirit identified Him as the Holy One of God. He silenced the demon and cast it out. Mark 1: 21-28 tells us that everyone was amazed because He taught with authority and was able to give orders to evil spirits. They had never seen - or heard - anything like it. The news spread like wildfire, and as soon as the Sabbath was over, the whole town showed up to see Him.
How incredibly blessed Jesus must have been to have a place to go before that. Peter's house must have been a welcome haven - a quiet place to rest for a bit, on that day of rest. The commentary I read suggested that He healed Peter's mother-in-law, not just for her own sake, tho certainly that was part of it - but because healing enabled her to become an active part of their community. She was able to serve them - as Jesus, in turn, served the people who showed up at the door. Her ministry mattered. It may have seemed a collection of small, everyday, ordinary tasks - but her ability to engage in them mattered to Jesus, and to her family, and to their friends.
Jesus engaged with so many people that day. The man in the synagogue and Peter's mother-in-law were just the beginning. Person after un-well person came to the door to see Him that day - hurting, tired, frightened, in need. And He met with each of them, meeting their eyes, touching their shoulders, holding their hands, casting out the demons who had so long oppressed them. How many people walked away from those encounters with new life, a new spring in their step, hope for the first time in ages? And how did their changed lives affect the lives of those around them?
But it cost Him something. Time. Energy. He needed His own renewal -and so He pursued it, quietly, on His own, with His Father. And while there were still many people who would put demands on His time, who wanted to be with Him, to wanted to talk to Him - He would not be distracted from His mission: to preach the good news of the gospel. And so He went on to other villages.
There is so much to learn from all of this.
Being available to people carries with it its own sort of poverty. It can drain you, being there for people, doing your job, getting everything done that you need to do. There are times when we run so hard and so fast that it lands us flat on our backs in bed with a fever - sometimes literally, tho maybe more often figuratively - when we are rendered incapable of doing one more thing for anybody. Finding balance is essential - not just for our own well-being, but for everyone else's as well. Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well - all the things we know we "should" do but aren't always very disciplined at pursuing - do actually matter. When we don't do them over a sustained period of time we get sick - we need healing - we become unable to serve as we could, we aren't able to "show up" - and our community - whether it's family, work, or church - suffers loss because of our lack of health. Taking time to shush, and to wait - to sit at God's feet, listening to Him speak, and resting in His Presence - is essential if we're to be spiritually healthy; if we don't do it, we end up running on our own strength instead of ministering out of His - and we "burn out" - mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually - and find ourselves again in need of healing, and our community feeling the effects.
The interconnectedness fascinates me: the idea that God heals us (whether physically, spiritually, emotionally, or mentally (correcting our wrong ways of thinking) - and there's even an interconnectedness of those four things within us!) not just for our sakes, tho He does love us that much, but so that we can be an active part of what He is doing in the world, and that time spent with Him in solitude matters so that we can minister more effectively... it's all wrapped up together - healing and rest, availability, service. And as usual, everything He's doing in me isn't about me at all, but about His kingdom... and yet it blesses me too. I love these quiet moments in my week, when I can simply get away and be with Him, resting, reading, reflecting, breathing... healing. They matter - to me, and to Jesus. But they also matter to His kingdom, tho I may never actually see how for quite awhile.