The ropes I used had colored ends: green, red, yellow, black, blue, purple. Last weekend’s women’s retreat was an exploration into the matters of the heart that are riding just beneath our planners and online calendars. Each color represented a different kind of commitment that pulls at our hearts. In a very diverse group, what we consistently discovered lurking just under the surface was the powerful cultural message that we are significant only if we are busy.
The early desert mothers would sound demented in this world. “What matters most is to avoid a life cluttered with so many cares and concerns that the capacity to choose well is forgotten or weakened.” (Mary C. Earle, The Desert Mothers, 29) To choose well is the path of embodied wisdom, not simply a memorable line from an Indiana Jones movie. And much more is at stake than the “holy grail.”
This week I had the privilege of sitting in on an in-depth Bible Study on 2 Corinthians taught by Dr. Paula Gooder, a Pauline scholar from Great Britain. The Apostle Paul, too, used an earthy household article to describe the dynamics of a well-chosen life. A clay pot. But even though first century Corinth was known for its pottery, none of these clay pots exist anymore. They were, most likely, of the poorest quality, thin pots that were intentionally made to crack, so that the light that was in them could be diffused in a wider space.
“We have this treasure [the glory of God in the face of Christ] in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:7) Paul, too, talks about his activity: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted…But here it is not “much activity, much personal significance,” but hard activity that Jesus’ life might shine through our weakness, or, in Dr. Gooder’s terms, in our “fragility.”
Will we carry tangled up ropes of too much activity for the hollow purpose of being perceived as being personally signficant, or become thin clay pots with cracks in them that can diffuse the glory of God into the corners of our world? The questions seem so contrary that one can hardly believe they coexist on the same planet. They do. But not in the same kingdom. May we, like the Apostle Paul, the desert mothers (and, I suppose, Indiana Jones), choose wisely.