Today is the feast of St. Monica, mother of the well-known theologian St. Augustine. Many see her as an example of the adage, “Behind every good man stands a good woman.” Some would say her concerns for her son were a bit “over the top” but her resulting success in having him turn his life around seems indisputable. One might prefer to focus it as the work of God but Monica was certainly one of those persistent mothers who knocked on God’s door without ceasing. Her efforts in saving her son from himself remind me of a song by Marty Haugen entitled “Bambelela” (“Never Give Up”). It’s a great reminder in times like this when some days seem too stressful—and a reason to thank God for mothers and those others who lead us to the straight and narrow path.
Yesterday I had another of those conversations about what some of us have come to call “bigger barns.” As “girls” often do, we were admiring someone’s lovely clothing. As is also frequently the case, the woman in question said she found it on sale and just couldn’t leave it in the store. She then proceeded to lament her full closet and her intention to clean out and let go of things she hadn’t worn in more than a year. We all agreed we tend to wear the same few outfits, maybe pairing different blouses with skirts or slacks but eventually noticing that we wear what is comfortable and those items in our closet that we like best. So why do we hold on so tightly to all the rest…?
I can easily join in to these conversations, amazed that I have accumulated such a large wardrobe. To be fair, most of my closet is filled with “hand-me-overs” – lovely clothes that have belonged to my sister or a close friend when they were new. Still, the point can be made that too much is always too much. What shall I do with all of this as we move from summer into winter? I could just invest in a couple of (additional) storage bins, the kind that fit under a bed or on a shelf…”Bigger barns!” I hear my inner voice shouting as I read the lectionary gospel text for today (LK 12:13-21). This time of purging my wardrobe – which I do hope will actually happen today – I will be mindful of all those who have “lost everything” in recent hurricanes, floods and fires. Moreover, I will hear again some of those people who, in the midst of their lament, say that “God is good; all of my family has survived.” It’s then that I hear Marty Haugen singing, “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be. All that you possess will never set you free. Seek the things that last; come and learn from me. Where your treasure is your heart shall be.”
Marty Haugen, one of my favorite composers of spiritual music, had a song on his CD, Turn My Heart, called Bambelela. Originally a South African spiritual hymn, Haugen’s arrangement was haunting – “got into the bones” – and called listeners to sing, sway or full-out dance. Bambelela means “Never give up.” Repeated over and over the message cannot be missed: “Never, never, never, never, never, oh…never, never give up.” (Bambe, bambe, bambe, bambe,bambe, oh…bambe, bambelela). Haugen throws in a couple of particulars along the way: “In times of trouble…when you’re in pain…” but for the rest it is 2:49 seconds of the repetition. One certainly cannot miss the message.
Today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles introduces Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the law in the Sanhedrin, who is remembered for a very wise piece of advice to his colleagues who were gathered to judge the Apostles present before them. He spoke of other religious movements that had come and gone and then said, “If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (ACTS 5:38-39) Good news for the Apostles and wise commentary for our lives as well.
I am reminded also by this example of the adage, “Trust in the slow work of God.” It’s easy to get discouraged if our pet projects don’t seem to be producing what we’ve desired as outcome. I doubt any of us has escaped such a situation in the totality of life. Never giving up and/or trusting in the slow work of God is not exactly at the heart of the 21st century culture in the United States of America.
Today I plan to look back to the times when I had to wait in order to see clearly the hand of God in my life. Perhaps this practice will strengthen my resolve to “hold on” for future outcomes, trusting that if I put each effort solidly in the hand of God, all will be correctly ordered in God’s time.