Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Small Things Make a Big Diference (Part III)

From "The Little Way: The Power of Small Things (Luke 13:18-21)"
Richard J. Vincent, 2006

Humility and "The Little Way"
A commitment to small things demands humility and patience. Humility keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Patience allows us to endure the long and painful process of spiritual formation. These two qualities are embodied in the life and teaching of one of my favorite saints: Thérse of Lisieux.
Actual photo of Thérse of Lisieux
Thérse describes her spirituality as "The Little Way." When we recognize our "littleness" in the sight of God, we more easily trust and take comfort in God’s provision: "When we keep little we recognize our own nothingness, and expect everything from God just as a little child expects everything from its father. Nothing worries us."

[Fr. John: The Gospel this Sunday mentions how God gives good gifts to us his children. ]
Instead of aspiring to "great deeds," Thérse recommends doing small deeds with great love. To her, these "little deeds of great love" are "little flowers" that demonstrate tender affection to God. She writes,
"How shall I prove my love, since love must prove itself by deeds? I, the little one, will strew flowers… I will let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word. I will make use of the smallest actions and do them all for love… There is only one thing to do here below, namely to offer Our Lord the flowers of little sacrifices, to win Him by our caresses."
She told her friend, Céline, "Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them." Almost 300 years earlier, Brother Lawrence said something similar, "The littleness of the work does not lessen one bit the value of the offering, for God does not consider the greatness of the work, but the love that motivates doing it."

[Fr. John: The author refers to  "Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (c. 1614-12 February 1691) [who] served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Christians commonly remember him for the intimacy he expressed concerning his relationship to God as recorded in a book compiled after his death, the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God." (Citation HERE) I highly recommend this book.]

A tender smile, a kind word, an encouraging gesture – these small things can give new life and fresh faith to others. When we are not anxious about personal greatness, we can rest in our littleness. Like little children, our attention to the small details keeps us "in the moment" – entirely present to ourselves, others, and God, and thus, entirely able to act in love. This is exactly how Jesus encouraged us to live: "Do not be worried about tomorrow. Today has enough troubles of its own. So, seek first God’s kingdom!" In other words, "Live in the present moment, and make this small moment a moment of divine love by seeking first God’s kingdom. And, don’t assume that this means ‘big’ things! Great things, yes; but big things, not necessarily."
Patience in the Process
God is patient with us, and we should be patient with ourselves. God waited patiently as we grew from babies to toddlers to children to adolescents to young adults and beyond. God does not demand that we act beyond our abilities. God realizes (because God has made a world in which this is explicit) that growth is progressive – slow, organic, incremental, and cumulative. No one act defines us, yet every act in some way shapes us.
Even more importantly, every act – no matter how "small" – is an agent of God’s kingdom. Our small acts are the seed and yeast of the kingdom. When we search for great signs of God’s activity in our world, we often forget the clear signs that are in our midst. In Jesus’ day, the people expected the Kingdom of God to consist of mighty military commanders, invincible armies, and power-wielding authorities. They did not expect God’s kingdom to break in through the simple liberation of the marginalized, the weak, and the oppressed.
This is the way Jesus’ two short parables connect with the previous passage concerning the healing of the crippled woman. The "therefore" (Luke 13:18) at the beginning of the parables invites us to tie the parables as commentary to the previous story. The healing of the crippled woman may seem insignificant in light of people’s expectations of the kingdom, but it was a significant victory of the kingdom. Craddock puts it like this,
A woman bound by Satan has just been loosed; not a major, earth-shaking event, but in that single act is the beginning of the reign of God in the world and the beginning of the end of Satan’s destructive power. Do not therefore be discouraged over what seems to be a lack of success. God is at work; just as seed and leaven carry their futures within them. (Craddock, Luke, 171)

To be continued...