These are exciting times in the life of the Serene Disciple Project and Egret Isle Farm in same way a roller coaster is exciting. It promises to be fun, and you know it will probably all turn out ok in the end, but there are moments when it feels like it might crash and burn! I have been challenged as we have prayed and worked to get this project airborne to actually live out the principles of the project in the midst of the uncertainty of starting something like this. At one point I said to Kay, my wife, “wouldn’t it be ironic if starting the Serene Disciple Project killed our serenity?” And so we stay cognizant of the truth of the Psalm that says unless the Lord builds the house, the workmen labor in vain. And I move intentionally and daily through the practice of silence, creative work, hospitality, and community as a way of modeling the way of life I have been talking and writing about. The message is the method.
But all of this effort does raise the question, why? Why do all of this? Why did I quit a perfectly good job with a regular paycheck to pursue what can only be seen as a risky uncertainty? What if we don’t raise enough money? What if no one watches the videos we produce? What if we fail at creating community? What if no one wants the farm products we labor to offer? What if it was all for nothing? Trust me, these questions occasionally run through my mind! And, of course, it might not succeed. It might, in spite of all the effort, fall to pieces before it’s really even off the ground. That could happen. But it makes me think of the next stanza of the Thomas Merton’s poem, “The Serene Disciple,” which we have been exploring over the last several weeks. Here is a link to the entire poem. In this blog I want to look specifically at this bit:
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
Last week I wrote about becoming resistant to the shame of failure and the empowerment that comes when we can fail without that failure challenging our basic sense of self-worth and value. Merton reminds us next that even if we become resistant to the shame of our own failure, others might not be so accepting. If we or those around us believe it was, somehow, our destiny (written in the stars) to be successful, then our failure becomes a challenge to the surety of their own star-written destiny of success. If I failed, maybe they will too! To make sense of failure then, we or those around us look for something or someone to pin the blame on. “You were not supposed to fall,” they might angrily say, “You were not supposed to fail!” One is reminded of what might have been the reaction of Jesus’ friends at his arrest or crucifiction. With the use of the word “saints,” Merton employs a bit of sarcasm. These would be the same “saints” that stood at the foot of the cross alongside of Jesus’ friends looking at “the noble ruin” Jesus had become. The one who saved others could not even save himself. And they walked away safe in the knowledge of their superiority.
And yet, Jesus’ greatest defeat was also his greatest victory. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Difficulty, distress, failure, and defeat are all, in the end, as valuable as success in weaving the tapestry of our lives. They become part of our story and may end up being more spiritually productive than anything else. So, if this project fails, it will still have been worth doing.
It is also worth doing because I really believe I am called by God to bring this message to a larger audience than I could reach before. I believe this message will prove to be life giving to many who have written off or been written off by traditional church communities. Next week, I’ll write more about that community which is much loved by God and by me!