the quiet life

During prayer a few days ago, while chanting a psalm, I was reminded of the monastic influences in my past. My temperament fit well with the quiet monastic life. Years ago I even hoped to join a Cistercian monastery in England. But eventually I moved back to a more in-the-world lifestyle. It seemed to me that while separation from many of the tempting influences of society could certainly be helpful in the Christian life (and sometimes necessary), it was more valuable to others if I could be in more direct contact with society. And I saw Jesus doing this himself, during his ministry.

But now I find myself withdrawing more and more from “society” here, from political structures and community events, and it reminds me of my monastic leanings. I didn’t get to this point by trying to avoid temptations, though. It happened as a result of my experiences of being very much involved in the political and religious activity of the community for years. What seemed to be happening was more and more open conflict, the more involved I became. Until eventually I thought that it would be better for everyone if I stepped away from direct involvement in those activities.

I hope the source of the conflict was something close to what caused Jesus to be in almost continual conflict with the religious leaders of his community. But if so, then how can I step back? Jesus didn’t.

I’m familiar with Christian activists who point to Jesus’ clashes with the authorities of his day as a justification for their political actions, and a model for their lives. Keep pushing, keep fighting! But Jesus actually didn’t fight for long. Only a few years, and then he was crucified. He let them crucify him, too, he didn’t keep pushing and fighting. That’s where I see the activist parallel breaking down. They don’t get crucified, they get interviews and book deals, and keep pushing until they burn themselves out.

And they seem to forget that Jesus’ open conflict with society was only a small part of his life. Just a few years, not a model for a whole life. What about the thirty years before that, in which nothing notable seemed to happen? Was Jesus hiding? Shy?

I do believe we will be called at times to speak out and stand firm and (in love) let ourselves be broken or exiled or crucified. But that’s not every day. Most of our lives following Jesus will look more like Nazareth, I think. Unnoticed and humble, doing the small tasks our Father has given us this day, and grateful that we are spared the lash and the nails for now.