Monday, February 06, 2006

Saving the World by Coming Alive

What is my ministry to the world?

Everyone ministers to the world in some form or another, whether implicitly or explicitly. A somewhat well-known quotation comes to mind. It's perhaps cliche, but don't get hung up on that:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Harold Whitman

All of our activism - protests, donating to charity, writing to government officials, re-building neighborhoods; all of it - is a way of tending to the world. I need to point out that such activisim is not the only way of tending to the world.
Activism means nothing if it is done out of guilt or pity. True actions are sprung from the deepest call, and bring us only joy even through the hardships encountered. We act out of love and only love. When we "come alive" we are tending to the world. If such activism does not make us come alive, then we must re-examine what it is to which we are truly called, where the Spirit is leading us rather than guilt or some other outside obligation. No one should feel guilty if they are not called to drop everything and join the Peace Corps or go to a protest (or ten) or be active in a committee for some form of activism or another.

We all have different gifts, Friends, and we are meant to use them in different ways.

This is ministry to myself as much as anyone else. As a full time college student, it is easy for me to begin overthinking and feeling guilty, afraid that I am not properly tending to the world. I have a passion for chemistry - chemistry in its purist form has very little to do with peace and justice or politics. What good is it if I can prove that putting these two chemicals together under certain conditions produces some other chemical, right? Surely that can't be important in the real world. I even catch myself feeling guilty about wanting to do chemistry. If I'm not out in the field working with people who have so many hardships or rebuilding houses in broken down communities and am instead studying something about which I can be happy and excited, then I am selfish and not properly tending to the world, right?

Then, though, I remind myself that chemistry makes me come alive. Chemistry feels like a calling, one of the main directions in my life. And it's far from useless in the so-called real world. Then I remember that the research project I worked on this summer contributed to finding a faster way to diagnose a horrible autoimmune disease (Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Autoantibodies - ANCA). I remember that I'm applying to work this summer in a lab doing research about one of the biochemical causes of Type 2 Diabetes - and working toward making a better medication. There are people who are not necessarily being bombed who need help in our own back yard, and I have already worked - and am looking to continue working - to help them using the very thing that makes me come alive: chemistry. The most important message here, though, is that I first recognize and do what makes me come alive, where I am truly led, and after the fact I come up with reasoning about how it tends to the world. Truly living in the Spirit means listening first, and reasoning second.

While I cannot say that my ministry to the world is solely chemistry, I can say that part of how I minister to the world through chemistry. To take this even a step further, I minister to the world when I experience and share any form of joy (chemistry brings me joy, which I do share). I minister to the world when I am upset (ministry is not always fun). I minister to the world by being me, not who I think I should be, and by acting as I am called without feeling guilty about not saving the world in the most obvious way.

By listening to our inward callings and by being truly ourselves, we each do our part in saving the world.

Love and Light,


Blogger Zach A said...

Good thoughts :) I have struggled with the same thing, as I said on my last post, in my case about guilt over playing music.

Even aside from the do-what-makes-you-come-alive argument, I don't think you should feel qualms at all about studying chemistry; if you look I'm sure you can find ways to put it to good use.

6/2/06 11:39 PM  
Blogger Zach A said...

Oh, and I've loved that quote since I saw it two years ago, and I'm kind of bummed that it's well known now (:

6/2/06 11:39 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Claire, I feel a nudge to point out that Fox's encouragement to "walk cheerfully over all the earth..." also points to the fact that perhaps your fellow chemists may need to be ministered to, person to person.

Never underestimate where or why God calls us to be among the people we find ourselves. Friend Brian Drayton in his new book often returns to the phrases, "Stay alert," or "Pay attention." I agree with this advice, especially when we think we know why we are in a given situation.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

7/2/06 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Thanks Claire. This one particularly spoke to issues that I am discerning at present. Some of our Quaker language ("leading", "waiting", "obedience", etc.) sounds very passive. I need help remembering that we are co-creators in God's service and Word to the world. It is important to explore what we feel deeply passionate about and what deep desires are in us. God works even through our egos (as long as we don't let our egos dominate). Peace, Friend. I hope to talk with you soon. Andrew

12/2/06 10:07 PM  
Blogger Christopher Parker said...

There's something I've been trying to do out of commitment. My partner in that work confronted me Monday, telling me of her own lack of motivation and how this comes about because my heart isn't in what I'm doing. She's right. It's good work in theory, but without the inspiration, I'm only treading water. At best. I might be taking somebodies place who is inspired, and I am drawing away resources from other places in my life where I do feel my heart come alive.

This is so important, Claire!


16/2/06 4:31 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Andrew's comment that "some of our Quaker language ('leading', 'waiting', 'obedience', etc.) sounds very passive" has just prompted me to write a response. Thanks for this food for thought, everyone!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

22/2/06 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Robin M. said...

For me, right now, it is also important to remember that what made me come alive two years ago may be deadening now. Thank you for this post, which helps me clarify my thinking on my own calling.

27/2/06 12:55 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Just a couple of weeks ago, at Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church, I found out that Margery Post Abbott is also a research chemist by training and for most of her career although I'm not sure she is still working in chemistry - she is spending much of her time teaching and writing about Quakerism. I thought of this post as she was telling of her spiritual journey.

Just thought you might also be itnerested.

22/3/06 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Caitlin Palo said...

Thank you for this. I've just begun loooking at your Quaker blog again, and though you have not written recently, there is much material here for me to ponder.

It was wonderful to see you this past week, even if only in very small bits and pieces. I hold you in the Light often, and want you to know that I'm always a phone call away (or two, if messages are left).

I've began to read some books on faith--currently one about St. Francis of Asissi. The book wasn't particularly inspired by you, but the decision to just start reading instead of fantasizing about it was inspired by you.

In the Light


10/7/06 2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such an insightful, insightful post! So much so, that I will be sharing it with many non-Friend friends. Imagine my delight when, in googling Harold Whitman's quote, I come upon this blog from none other than a young college student in Wellesley, MA. I can only hope that menas you will soon join my ranks as a Wellesley Alum. Best of luck with your studies.


1/9/06 1:43 PM  
Blogger ralphie said...

claire, thanks a lot for sharing what you did. found your site while googleing for the quote, which currently is my favourite one. And yes I agree with you, just imagine how impractical it would be to eat your soup with the ear (in case the ear would want to be the hand :-) )

ralph, london

23/10/06 5:00 PM  
Blogger slfpwrd said...

Long ago I heard that qoute by Whitman and had it facing me on my desktop for years. Just now I googled for it again to see who had said it, and this came up. Very true words, thanks for posting (even though it was over a year ago!).

10/4/07 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Claire.. I also came upon your site while googling this quote. I just heard it this past weekend while in San Antonio with our youth group doing service for San Antonio Volunteer Experience. It has been on my mind since. I want to find an old fence board to paint it on an hang it in my house. Thanks for your thoughts. You must be an amazing young woman. Peace, SUZY

26/7/07 3:26 PM  

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