Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ends in Themselves

I'm not one of those people who enjoys cleaning. When I do manage to do a deep cleaning of my house, I admit feeling a sense of accomplishment. But there is no simple joy or domestic pleasure in the act - a clean house is merely a sign that I'm avoiding writing my sermon or that company is on its way. For me, the cleanness of my living conditions is not an end in itself that I ascribe value to. It's fine, but it's not really worth the trouble (to me) to keep the house cleaner than I do. I can (and have for many years) valued reading, or catching up on a favorite tv show or spending time with friends & family more than I value the time spent on cleaning. And that's because the end result of these actions - the enrichment of a relationship, the mental absorption of fantastic and fictional words - is of great value to me. Of much more value than a clean kitchen counter!

I've been reading some book series that I own since I was in Junior High. I pick the old and worn books up when I start to lose my sense of the particulars of the story and I am never dismayed by what I find - characters so familiar that they've become paper friends, worlds so dear to me that I sometimes wish I could visit them. These stories and the people, conflicts and philosophies within them are a source of constancy, of familiarity, and they connect me backwards to my younger selves. I am in a continuum when I read, a once-and-future Elizabeth. Or to quote Battlestar Galactica - this has happened before and it will happen again. No matter what has happened or what will happen, my stories are an anchor in the violent stream of time. You can see why housework always loses in the battle of "Should I do the dishes? Or read another chapter?"

I need more of these meaningful pursuits in my life. Reading is a valuable end in itself, but I find myself craving more meaning, more ends worth living for. Gareth, of course, is a huge catalyst for action and enrichment. His needs are so immediate and my responsibilities to him unavoidable and I find no difficulty in doing what I must for his sake. But those, at their root, are choices and impulses of survival. And I need so much more than to JUST SURVIVE. There is no joy or energy or transcendence in surviving. I eat and sleep and clean and work and all sorts of other verbs to survive and that is not enough anymore. And I wish that I could say that my job in ministry was constantly providing me that energy and joy. Sometimes it does...but not all the time. I love the people I am serving and I love the God that I have chosen to follow and every so often there are shining, glittering moments of transcendent peace when I know that I am truly and honestly participating in a in-breaking of God's Kingdom. But those moments are not as often as I hope (or need? Is that greedy?) and it is probably because my soul is still scarred from All the Evil. It's times like this where I reflect on the prophets Jeremiah or Hosea and see myself reflected in their words and lives - they had been hurt so deeply, disappointed so completely, and they carried on serving God hoping for the return of joy, of life, of meaning.

Perhaps we are all looking for this joy and meaning. I think we all know, deep down, that ends in themselves are not enough to give us life. To give us the joy that can weather pain and disappointment.

Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up and the spark will strike again and I will be consumed with a sense of meaning and transcendent purpose and I will be doing more than surviving.

So say we all.