Confessions of a She-Geek

July 30, 2013

Spear Carrier #4

Filed under: Books,Faith and Religion — Teresa @ 11:29 pm
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When we were kids, one of my brothers and I got into a disagreement about Watership Down. I maintained that the hero of the story was  Hazel, the de-facto leader of a small band of rabbits who set off to start a new warren after theirs was destroyed. Hazel was smart, cool-headed in a crisis, brave, noble – all the things a hero should be.

My brother insisted the real hero was Hazel’s brother, Fiver. At the time, I thought my brother had a screw loose.

See, Fiver was not a leader; he was quiet, and preferred to stay in the background. Described as a runt, Fiver was also seen as strange, prone to making odd predictions that had an unnerving way of coming true. Hardly the sort to inspire a band of followers. But Hazel loved and trusted Fiver enough to take Fiver’s advice, which saved all of them time and time again. So, while Fiver was not leading the way himself, he was making it possible for Hazel to guide the group to safety.

Looking back, I can see that my brother had a point.

I found myself thinking of this while mulling over something that Teresa of Avila wrote in her autobiography. She discusses the importance of humility in prayer; recognizing that God knows far better than we do what we’re ready for spiritually, and not pushing the growth process. Growth will happen at the appropriate time.

She goes on to explain that humility is also a key factor in serving God, because not everyone is necessarily meant to accomplish great, impressive things. Some of us are meant to help others accomplish great, impressive things.

You know; like Fiver helped Hazel.

So what does this mean for us? What if it turns out that you’re not supposed to take a leading role? What if you’re supposed to be, say, Spear Carrier #4? Do you have the humility to serve God in the role that He assigned you, and to do it to the best of your ability?

Teresa put it this way: “If His Majesty is pleased to promote us to His household or Privy Council, we must go willingly…  God is more careful for us than we are for ourselves, and He knows what each of us is good for.”

While we may know logically that exceptional people are, well, exceptions, and that by definition most people are not, cannot be exceptional, applying this to ourselves can be a rather bitter pill to swallow. It flies in the face of everything this competition-based culture tells us. There are plenty of examples in movies, books, television, and so on. How many stories have we heard where the leading character is the best at what he (or she) does? Even if the protagonist is less than admirable in other ways, his (or her) skill is the redeeming factor, and a source of respect from others, however grudgingly it may be given.

Can we override this ingrained mythos in order to serve God in the manner that pleases Him best, not ourselves? Can we check our egos at the door and follow God’s lead, even if we’re led to someplace far different than we thought we’d be? More important, can we let go of the desire for recognition from others for service well-done?

There’s a saying that integrity is doing the right thing when no one’s looking. I think service may work in the same way. Spear Carrier #4 will probably never get awards for appearing onstage, but it’s the appearing onstage that matters, awards or no. Do it because it’s what God wants, Teresa says, regardless of what’s in it for us, and whether or not we can see the fruits of our labors.

I’ve been pondering this point. For a lot of people, prayer is a source of comfort; of strength. We pray to gain spiritual gifts. What Teresa says suggests that we should pray and serve God and look at the benefits to ourselves as icing on the cake. It’s the prayer and service that count; what pleasure we derive from it is beside the point, should not be expected every time, and should not be the primary motivator.

Then again, if you apply 20th-century psychology to this, intermittent reinforcement is the most effective way to foster persistence. Kinda like God understands the best way for someone to grow spiritually is through prayer and service, and that providing rewards from time to time (but not necessarily every time) will get someone to keep at it. That’s actually pretty sneaky. And effective.

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