Chop Wood and Carry Water
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ - Luke 10:1-9
Above my desk at work is an inscription of a Zen Buddhist proverb: “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” Sometimes I change the words: “Before enlightenment, do paperwork. After enlightenment, do paperwork.” The Buddhist author of the proverb meant to convey something we also hold true as Christians- that spiritual enlightenment happens in the ordinary course of human life not outside of it. Our spiritual life is lived not in some idealized world somewhere, but in THIS(!) world. Spirituality is not lived in some fantasy life we imagine, but it is lived in THIS(!) life, in all its joys and beauty, AND(!) even in all its dullness, ugliness, struggles, and sufferings. Christian spirituality is not about fuga mundi, flight from the world. Our enlightenment, our spiritual transformation, our salvation is worked out in fear and trembling in the course of our life lived day in and day out, lived, however, in the hope that each moment of life, good or bad, is imbued with divine presence.
The Gospel today drives this point home. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into the world filled with wolves, meaning Jesus sent them in places where there was suffering, sin, evil, chaos, danger, places where they would surely be in harm’s way. Luke plainly warns us that our Baptism, our faith will not protect us from the experience of evil and pain. On the contrary, our decision and commitment to follow Jesus will thrust us right out there in the midst of the world’s brokenness. For if Jesus is going to work his transformation in the world through us, he must have willing companions in us who are willing to enter into the pain and suffering of this world, and share in its deepest hopes for justice, and redemption. There are two commands we can readily identify in the Gospel today. The primary command I want to call your attention to is “menete”… “Stay, remain.” “Do not move from place to place.” It is a command not to escape or flee but to seek God in those places where God sent them. “Stay, remain in the place where I send you, and share in the life of the people- share in their joys, share in their sufferings even if your hearts get broken.” The secondary command- that is, not to bring money or clothes or other belongings- support the command to stay. After all, if the disciples were to bring money, credit cards or a round trip ticket, there would always be a possibility to escape. Jesus wanted to cut out that possibility. Without the external props to help the disciples escape, they would be forced to earn their money in the place where they were sent, which meant they had to stay for a looooong time…meaning, they would have to live among the people and share in their lives, and with them, work out their own salvation in fear and trembling as they chop wood and carry water day in and day out. In a few minutes, you will be dismissed with a command: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” You are not to remain in the comfort, solitude and protection of these walls. But you are to go and live your life in the world with the rest of God’s children, some of whom are suffering. But let us not worry: he whom we find here is also out there. Seek him there…as you chop wood and carry water day in and day out.
2012 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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