If you work in “vocational ministry” either at a local church or in a Christian organization, chances are there are many days where you find yourself downing in a sea of e-mails, tossed about by waves of appointments, beaten down by a torrent of opinions and complaints and expectations…OK, enough with the metaphor. You get it. Sometimes, “ministry” is anything but “ministering”– to you, to others, and least of all, to the Lord.
Well, you’re not alone. Gregory was a Benedictine monk who was called out of the monastic life and appointed as the Bishop of Rome. But Gregory often missed his quieter, more contemplative life. In a letter to the Emperor’s sister, he wrote:
“On every side, I am tossed by the waves of business and sunk by storms, so that I may truly say, ‘I have come into the depth of the sea, and the storm has overwhelmed me.’ (Psalm 68:3) After business, I long to return to my heart, but driven therefrom by vain tumults of thoughts, I am unable to return…”
Gregory goes on to use a beautiful metaphor, comparing the business of church life to Leah, but the beauty of the contemplative life to Rachel:
“I have loved the beauty of the contemplative life as a Rachel, barren, but keen of sight and fair (Genesis 29), who, though in her quietude she is less fertile, yet sees the light more keenly. But, by what judgment I know not, Leah has been coupled with me in the night, to wit, the active life; fruitful, but tender-eyed; seeing less, but bringing forth more. I have longed to sit at the feet of the Lord with Mary, to take in the words of His mouth; and lo, I am compelled to serve with Martha in external affairs, to be careful and troubled about many things (Luke 10:39).”
Gregory was one of the greatest leaders the church had in the early medieval period. He brought about incredible reform and helped unify the church despite its spread among various languages and tribal cultures. Even Luther wrote that Gregory was “the last great pope.” (Of course, Luther never lived to see John Paul, II!)
Sometimes, I think it would be easier– and cleaner and quieter– to retreat to a “hidden life.” I need to fight for the quiet moments and make time to be alone. But for those of us in “ministry,” we cannot live there. Like the donkey our Savior rode on into the busy, loud city of Jerusalem, “the Lord hath need of us” where we are.
How do you feel the tension between the busyness of church life and beauty of the contemplative life?