Caretaking and Taking Care

I missed offering a musing last week because I was away at several gatherings where I was asked to be  a caretaker for the gathered community – by preaching, by presenting some reflections of Scripture and prayer, by facilitating a group process, by conversing with people, and finally by feeding, putting to bed and playing with my two youngest grandchildren. Although those acts of care-taking don’t seem to have much in common at first glance, I found that some of the same qualities or gifts were needed from me in all of them.

I needed to listen, deeply, intuitively, persistently to all who had been entrusted to my care for those hours. I needed to listen not only to the content of what was being said, but as much as I was able, to listen to the concerns, anxieties and longings that underlay the content. I needed to watch for clues that came in facial expressions, in gestures, in body expression and in tone of voice.  I needed to listen to the silences between the words. And I needed to connect the specific words to the larger stories of those people and those communities, to their shared history, to their common geography, to the context into which they were doing the telling. In more than one instance, I was startled to realize that the gift of care=taking that I was offering was the gift of listening to this beloved one, from beginning to end of the telling. More than the content I came to preach or deliver, we need to be heard, to be listened to with attentiveness, with Presence.

I also was called on to bring a compassionate heart to those who before me, whether it was a  an octogenarian celebrating a birthday with his worshiping community or a five year old who was deeply embarrassed because he couldn’t live up to his dreams of super-powers. Every person I met, whether in a crowd or one to one, had hurts and slight, even deep wounds, that had gone or were going into their formation as a person, a beloved child of God, and since I follow the One who loves the world, and does not want any to be hurt, I was called on to see with eyes of compassion and acceptance, not judgment or impatience. I thought about the way that Jesus encountered the one we call the Rich Young Ruler, and how looking on him, he loved him. That was the look I wanted to carry as I went from place to place. That was challenging! Not everyone wanted to move on my schedule, not everyone saw the world the way that I do, not everyone was happy to have me be the caretaker of the moment. But the call was to compassion, no matter what!

Those calls to deep listening and compassion had to be practiced with persistence. I found that I got tired, tired of sleeping in a bed that was not my own, tired of listening to anxiety that was not my own, tired of hearing the same complaints and questions and excuses over and over again. But the care-taking required a constancy and persistence, a commitment to be there for the duration of the call. And so I stayed faithful – to the end, for the sake of those for who I had responsibility that moment.

When the immediate opportunities for care-taking were finished, I returned to what for me passes for normal these day, ready in my head to plunge into the lists and agendas that had piled up at home. And was stopped short by my body, and my mind, and my spirit. All seemed to have gone on the fritz, and I couldn’t “get going.” Until I remembered the words of Jesus to his followers,  “Come apart and rest for awhile.” I needed to enter into Sabbath, to take care of my soul, my body, my spirit, while the Spirit of God refreshed, renewed and nourished me. My body and all that it carries, needed sleep. My mind needed to ruminate and reflect on my experiences, and in doing so I could recall a time in the midst of all my care-taking when some one took care of me by deep compassionate listening. And I needed to listen again to the voice of the One who calls me Beloved, who has called me to care for others in surprising ways and places.

I am happy to be one who cares and care-takes, but I also continue to need to learn to take in the care I am given through loving one who are the hands, feet and voice of the Mystery we call God.

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