Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Hidden Life

Some years ago, I came across a poem by George MacDonald entitled, “The Hidden Life.” It had to do with an intellectually gifted young Scot who turned his back on a prestigious academic career to return to his aging father and to the family farm, there to engage in “ordinary deeds” and “simple forms of human helpfulness.” What a waste,” his friends lamented. 

So we too may serve in some unnoticed place, doing nothing more than ordinary deeds. Others say, “What a waste,” but God wastes nothing. Every act of love, no matter how modest, rendered to him, is noted and has eternal consequences. Every place, no matter how small, is holy ground. If we are faithful in the small duties of our lives, we will have grace for greater things, should they come our way. In the meantime, “We must confine ourselves to the present moment without taking thought for the one past or the one to come,” Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote. “Love is the duty of the present moment.”

But, we ask, what of the world? We read the weary tales of war and violence, poverty, and the wretchedness of little children, sad with hunger, neglect, and cruelty. What can we do to bring salvation to the world?

The best we can for the whole world is the best we can do for our world. Our influence on our small part of the whole will go where God determines it will go, and with his help may go out to the world like ripples on a pond in ever–widening circles to the ends of the earth.

Influence is is a simple matter—often an unconscious matter—of human helpfulness: being there, listening, understanding the need, loving and praying. There is no greater service and no greater influence than that of a gentle, caring, unselfish neighbor.

Evelyn Underhill writes, “Among the things which we should regard as spiritual in this sense are...friendly visits, kind actions and small courtesies… We must see that our small action is part of the total action of God.” (From The  Spiritual Life). Every action, then, done in love, is part of  God’s larger work to show his love to the world.

So, for those of us who wonder where to begin, we can begin where we are: by caring for those nearest to us and giving human help where it’s needed, whether our lives are filled with mundane duties, or matters of international concern. “Who is my neighbor,” the rich man asked Jesus, to which our Lord responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and its unexpected answer: The very next person I meet.


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