Beauty for Ashes

“Ultimately, genuine holiness attracts people more than clever publicity.”

This is a quote from my Commonplace Book. It is also the line that summed up for me why the book Beauty for Ashes, by Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett should be required reading for everyone who intends to become part of the leadership of a church in any denomination (or pre-denomination). The Subtitle for the book is The Spiritual Transformation of a Modern Greek Community. This is the story of one bishop who transformed a community through authentic holiness. The jurisdiction had suffered neglect and sin. It was a broken and worldly community that had fallen into a pattern of seeing the world as sacred and secular.

This is often the season where Church leadership for the next year is chosen. Communities choose council members who will guide them for the next year, or two. Thoughtful spiritual guidance is needed by everyone in leadership roles. The path to wholeness is not found in plans. What this book recounts is that true Christian practice is not found through sophisticated and elaborate plans.

Fabulous programs can be implemented. But, “…the spiritual struggle of the Church is everywhere and always the same.”  Programming will not make a Church whole. Each person participating in the worship life of the community with integrity is the only path to holiness.

The Church, “…does not rely on propaganda or publicity but on emptied wills  and quiet hearts.”

Every member of a Church should be sharing the Good News. We should all gladly “share” on social media the events of our communities. If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God we should be living like it is true!

“Church leaders should…act as conduit or vessel of the divine, not marketing arm of God.”

This necessitates that all the parishioners of a congregation act like members of the body of Christ, and allow the flow of divine love and activity of the organism pass through them. We have fallen into a slothful habit in our society of “leaving everything to the experts.” We hire people to serve the Church, which is wonderful. Then we fail by expecting the “professionals” to do all the work. That is no more effective than a human body relying solely upon the heart to circulate all the blood.

May God grant us mercy to grow in grace and holiness!

 

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Dragon-scales

Chickenpox Day 7
The sight of me surprised my sister’s cat. One of her cats is the typical one-person only, skittish, hide-under-the-bed type cat. Snowy has always been that way and days can pass without my actually seeing her. When she hears anyone come she ducks for cover. I have had chickenpox for enough days that I imagined everyone who lives with me was well aware of how I currently look. Last night I saw Snowy and realized that she could not have seen my face lately. The look of shock and fear were too evident. Yes, she knows me. She trusts me, but the deformity of my face covered in scabbed blisters was too much and her ears pinned back and she dodged back into hiding. As I registered the effect my visage had on her I could see my sister’s other cat, Pussywillow across the room gazing at me with adoration.Pussywillow

Pussywillow had self-assigned the role of nurse through the very real misery that is chickenpox in adults. He had devotedly watched over my chills, severe muscle pain, nausea, moaning, and ever-increasing skin blistering. I had pushed him off me because his weight was too much for my agonizing skin to bear. So, he had gently lain himself down by my side and quietly purred. He would lie over my head on the back of my chaise and ever-so-gently reach one paw down and rest it on my shoulder so lightly that I couldn’t even feel it as he sang his most soothing song in my ear. It felt like a benediction. As fear was betrayed in his sister’s eyes his were full of deep, abiding love. I was beautiful to him. He wasn’t looking at my face with its disfigured skin. He was looking into my eyes and deep into my soul. He saw me, not what I looked like. My sister and I joked that it was such a pity neither of us has found a human man who will look at us like her cat.

Later I saw myself in the mirror and was aghast. I don’t take my appearance very seriously, which is I guess a good thing, considering… even I was taken aback. All I could think is, “That’s not me.” I long to pull the scabs off like scales off a dragon. “I look like a monster.” I thought. Suddenly “Beauty and the Beast” and all kinds of children’s fairy tales popped into my head. Who knows, they may have originated in reassuring some child that the blisters of chickenpox or some other such thing would not last.

Now I cannot help but ponder how often we all feel like we are hidden under shells. We all have protective shells acquired to keep our feelings safe. We hide behind fashions, status-cars, houses, spouses, kids, jobs, titles, anything to make us feel immune to criticism. We build walls to keep us safe, but they can in fact become like the dragon-shell and turn us into a mis-understood “monster.” We judge one-another by the shells. We base our actions not upon fact, but assumptions about how someone who lives in that neighborhood, or has that profession, or that tattoo must be. In reality we are all much more alike than different.

What would the world be like if more of us betrayed the real suffering that is part of the human experience? I did not throw Pussywillow out when I became sick. There was a moment when he was determined to “knead” my blistered stomach with his long claws where I really might have considered it if I had felt strong enough to wrestle him. Fortunately, for both of us he got the message and stopped. But, honestly, I trusted this cat. He could have really caused me more pain, but I trusted him to be a good friend and he was. It was due to his sharing the hard part of the journey with me that he looked through the blisters and saw me. How would our communities be different if rather than hide our pain we helped each other though? What if we all pulled off some of our “dragon-scales” and let others care for us? Will you run and hide based on externals or will you get to know people through the good and the bad and look with God’s love at their heart even when they are wearing tired scales?