Two Papers by John Calvi

I. Learning How Much We Don't Know

by John Calvi, April 2000

        The most sure way to get yourself into trouble is to offer to be of

help. It works most of the time. It's the kind of trouble that teaches

the essences of spiritual life and cannot be replaced by reading or prayer.

And the more desire you have to serve, the bigger the trouble you can find

yourself in. Hence, the more you can learn.

        The person who finds the finite call to do just so much, has snuck

into the best place. That person can say, put out the folding chairs each

week and be done with it. It's exacting. And from this limited task one

can extend the occasional extra such as the perfectly placed smile landing

just at the right moment upon the despairing receiver. Now that's a good

work place to learn ministry from.

        The person who feels called to change the world any time soon might

just as well sign up for exhaustion and confusion right now, not to mention

frustration and disappointment. Not that these aren't good learning tools

but it takes a while to see just which class one has signed up for. And in

the mean while, bags have been packed and tickets bought, and intention

made to go to a specific place at a certain time which may or may not be on

the actual menu, the cosmic menu. This is the beginning of the confusion.

The whole idea of thinking you know is really quite an overstatement.

Ministry, it seems to me, can be thought of as a series of hopes and

visions that can shift as the light changes. And perhaps it's best to keep

learning how much we don't know from the beginning.

        I personally have been working up a list of all the things I don't

know regarding my ministry and ran out of paper years ago. I am almost

comfortable with the thought that for each thing I learn at least two

unanswerable questions occur. At my best, I can laugh at this and myself

and enjoy the absurdity. Other times it all makes me cranky and rude. I

am hoping to live a very long time so I can get around to laughing at all

of these cranky parts of myself.

        I think there are two essences to ministry in Quaker understanding.

The first is the idea of a continual practice of setting yourself aside so

you can offer a gift from the divine, that light from above. For me, this

practice has taken years of doing to even begin to think I can do it often.

And even now, nearly 2 decades of hard work later, I still find the

occasion of what I had thought was grounded clarity was my own fumbling of

limited vision or understanding.

        True reverence and surrender are tonal

and muscular events that do not come easily or automatically no matter how

mature the ministry. Just as every good cook must wash their hands upon

entering the kitchen, so too must every minister surrender the assumption

of knowing and ask for guidance for every beginning. Humility and

nakedness are prerequisite professional obligations in ministry.

        I think the second essence of ministry is the necessity of having a

clear sense of one's own goodness, to know that at the core of our being we

are an aspect of the divine's fingers and breath. This sense of goodness

can give us the capacity to witness things that would otherwise overwhelm

the common understanding of being mere humans. This is what separates

simple compassion from a more complex compassion. Such as the gift of

being with untouchable pain, to witness so that the receiver is changed by

knowing that another sees their condition without flinching. And it's the

capacity to know our own worst, have mercy for it, and help another to

learn that mercy for their worst too.

        All this comes from a sense of our

own goodness and can refocus our intention from doing our most towards

doing our best, the switch that can detour us from exhaustion and despair.

The essence of our goodness is learned by the exchange of compassion

as an on-going experience in regular and extraordinary ways. It also comes

from the learning of power to reveal how we increase or decrease hope and

trust. Whenever we use our power to increase hope and trust, we witness

the building of good village life and peace. Whenever hope and trust are

thwarted in our use of power, we see the beginning of conflict and the

basis for war.

        Perhaps ministry is that rare, too rare, song that teaches the pain as

it lifts us up towards knowing what is possible.

John Calvi is a Released Friend from Putney Meeting in VT helping people to

heal from trauma.

John Calvi 802/387-4789 PO Box 301 Putney VT 05346 [email protected]

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