"The Flow of Ministry" appeared in The Gallup Independent in "Spiritual Perspectives" on Saturday, October 14, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission.
A few months ago, my friend called from Shiprock to tell me that her brother, who was also my friend, didn’t have long to live. “He wants to see you,” she said.
I know I’m on a sacred journey when the journey is difficult, when there are obstacles, and when the desire or the need to make the journey overcomes the obstacles. I live in Albuquerque, and I don’t have a car, so I had to think creatively about how I was going to make it up there. Finally I took the train to Gallup and got my nephew to drive me up Highway 491.
The first thing my friend asked when I got there was for me to pray with him. I said I would. Then he and his son and some friends and I sat around talking. Pretty soon the others went to another part of the house, and the two of us sat and talked about whether he believed what the doctor had said and the different roles of traditional Navajo healing and Western medicine. He told me he had fallen in love with life, and his smile was so sweet when he said it. Finally, I had to tell him that I don’t really pray aloud. “It’s because when I pray aloud I don’t feel like I’m connecting with the Holy One. Instead I feel that I’m performing for the people who are listening. I don’t seem to be able to get over that,” I said. “Can I pray silently with you?”
He smiled again, that sweet smile, and nodded. We took each other’s hands, and we prayed together. I was so blessed to be called, to find a way to make the sacred journey, to be asked to pray, to have those precious moments with my friend. Not many days later, he walked on to the next life.
In the Christian tradition of my youth and also the one I practice now, we believe that all of us are called to ministry. Not just the people with Reverend or Father or Sister in front of their names. In fact, the word minister comes from the Latin, meaning servant. The first definition of the verb, to minister, is “to attend to the needs of someone.” The idea that ministering has something to do with religion came later. Being a minister is something human, something we are all asked to do—to serve others.
Recently I read a book by a Christian woman who thought she was being called to be a missionary to Somali refugees who were of the Muslim faith. She wanted desperately to convert them to Christianity. After many years of friendship, the woman discovered that she wasn’t good at converting people by preaching sermons or telling Bible stories. She discovered that ministry is mostly about showing up again and again, wherever we are needed. Ministry is about the deceptively simple things—holding someone’s hand, praying with them, making a casserole when there has been a death in the family, drinking a terrible cup of coffee with a smile on your face because someone made it with love, washing dishes without being asked, baking a cake because its sweetness will make someone happy.
The other thing this woman discovered was not that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but that it may be more blessed to receive than to give. Often we think that we have much to give to others, but those thoughts sometimes come from arrogance. I think of the missionaries—the people who raised me. Their intentions, like those of this author were good, but they have often been guilty of believing that they had everything to give and nothing to receive.
Maybe it’s not more blessed to receive than to give. I think it’s a give and take, a back and forth flow, the flow of ministry. Giving and receiving are like two sides of the same rug. Think of a Navajo rug—the front and the back are usually equally beautiful; in fact, you usually can’t tell which is which. In serving, we are served. In being served, we are serving. In those moments of prayer I shared with my friend, the love was flowing back and forth between us through our hands, through our hearts. His sweet smile blessed me. His request that I come to see him blessed me. His smile told me that my coming also blessed him. We ministered to each other.
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