In last week’s bulletin I wrote about hospitality and discovering the gifts of your neighbors. This week’s scripture readings spoke loudly to me of the need to hone one’s own gifts.
God has given all of us gifts and it is important that we create practices in our lives that help us to become better at using those gifts. Becoming better at using God’s gifts is hard and sometimes scary work. But as Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “a woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (Jn 16:21) So it is as we ‘birth’ our own new selves and practices. And in this Sunday’s Gospel message, the master tells his servants to build off the gifts that he gives them, and the first two go and have clear ideas how to grow that money. The third has no idea what to do and is paralyzed by fear of failure. He buries the gifts.
Dancer Yoann Bourgeois captures the way in which we learn and grow in his beautiful staircase choreography. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching online. He climbs up several stairs easily, then falls into a trampoline which propels him back onto the staircase where he makes progress only to fall again. We grow confident in “Peace and Security,” like the reading from 1 Thessalonians, climbing the stairs when things go well, and then, BAM! disaster hits. We fall back off the staircase. The trick, I am learning, is not to fear the fall.
Brene Brown became famous for her Ted Talk on shame and the fear of failure. I’ve rewatched it a few times myself this past week. She quotes Theodore Rosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
In order to use our gifts well we are called to become comfortable with failure. Richard Rohr believes that you no longer learn spiritually through success after age thirty. As he puts it in his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it.” This is how learning happens.
So, this week I encourage you to go out and fail at something, and then celebrate your failure. You did it! I personally have a lot to learn in my new role as your liturgy director. I promise to not bury what you give me, but will make every attempt to multiply it. I humbly ask, be patient with me as I work to fall upward in humble service.