A couple of weeks ago, I attended a retreat with Nipun Mehta and ServiceSpace. Here are some reflections on service… especially in terms of moving from obligatory service to that which truly calls us.
A Deeper Yes
“Just say yes.”
That was my mantra for the ServiceSpace retreat.
I was determined to leave resistance at home and serve with a new level of grace. I was willing to be called and chosen, shaken and stirred, in whatever way would be most helpful.
That’s why on Saturday morning, when I was summoned to help prepare a feast for 50-plus people, I said “yes.” I went to the kitchen, found a sharp knife, and stood before a mountain of broccoli. It was mine. I was going to scale it like a German Tank. I would conquer the broccoli and have something to show for my effort. Tangible results. Evidence.
I picked up broccoli stalk number one and cut it into bite-sized florets. I peeled the woody stalk like Nikki taught me.
Then Trishna approached me.
“Bonnie,” she whispered. “We were wondering if you might be able to speak at the gathering tonight. Maybe just talk about your experience at the retreat and how it changed you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
I continued chopping. I was the soul of industry and accomplishment.
As I chopped, I contemplated the busy schedule for the upcoming day. “….There’s a lot going on…,” I thought, “and I need solitude to figure out what to say….I want to speak skillfully, to honor ServiceSpace, I want find words that will bless others…. Will I have the time and space I need…?”
I wasn’t sure. So I kept chopping.
Around stalk number three, Guri approached me.
“Bonnie,” she said. “We’re going on a slow, silent walk to the chapel. I found some additional volunteers who will serve in the kitchen so you can go. Would you like to join us?”
I wanted to go. I often find my Sunday sermons through “wandering and pondering.” I knew the silence would help me find the words – but there was Broccoli Mountain.
It was compelling.
I couldn’t let the other volunteers do my work for me. I couldn’t be a slacker. I had my responsibilities. To Nikki. To the ServiceSpace Team. To the Broccoli.
So I said, “Thanks for asking Guri, but no. I’ll stay here and chop.”
Guri went away; and then came back and asked again.
Stalk number five – “Bonnie, are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” (I was on a rampage).
Stalk number seven, Guri said, “…I hear the chapel is really nice….”
“Yeah, that’s great and all, but this broccoli isn’t gonna chop itself.”
Guri walked away again – and then I woke up.
I put down my knife and abandoned Broccoli Mountain. I found Guri and told her I would like to join the silent walk to the chapel.
I said no to the broccoli – because a deeper yes was calling me….
What is mine to do? Where should I let go? When does my “no” lead me to that deeper “yes”? I wrestle with these questions daily.
On the one hand it seems that we should be willing to do anything. No task is too lowly for the humble servant. But for writers, thinkers and other lovers, there’s often a yearning to complete tasks. When we serve by chopping broccoli and such, it feeds the need for accomplishment. Afterwards, you can say, “I did something. I’m good at this service stuff.” Completed tasks are beautiful, necessary things.
But sometimes the stronger yes is the softer yes. It is the still small yes that trembles in front of the tank-like desire to check items off of our to-do lists. It is the courage to shred evidence and move into the realm of giving gifts we cannot measure. It is the willingness to serve without proof, the ability to sacrifice our broccoli florets for emptiness.
It seems that both types of service are valuable.
At the Saturday night gathering, Rev. Heng Sure echoed this concept when he said, (paraphrased), “The father gives shape; the mother loves. Both are essential.”
In service, the father reshapes Broccoli Mountain. He chops and provides structure. He has proof of a job well-done.
The mother wanders in the woods to coax words out of the invisible. The mother has no guarantee. She must trust that her surrender is enough….more than enough.
I was glad I put down my kitchen knife and chose to walk. The morning became a mystery of silence, losing the path, thrashing through brambles, and finding the path again because Anuj showed up just when we needed him.
We eventually found the chapel. It was a small shack on the outside. On the inside it was a cathedral of hope– hundreds of beautiful prayers written on stones and seashells, placed with reverence on a driftwood altar.
And somewhere on this circuitous path, I found the words I needed – or maybe they found me.
Guri said, “The walk was a metaphor for life.”
She was so kind to shepherd me away from my broccoli and so right about the walk.
On the walk, I reflected on my unwillingness and willingness. I glimpsed the wonder of everything. In the mothering spaciousness, I knew that this walk for words was as important and as innocent and as magnificent as a huge humble pile of broccoli, the one on the kitchen counter in Bolinas, the one that became my altar….
If importance, innocence, magnificence and humility are true for me and my broccoli – then these qualities are true for all of us.
Saturday night at the gathering, I ate the broccoli that the noble volunteers chopped for me. I stayed in the miracle of a small intangible yes. And later that evening, as I spoke to the group, I trusted the words from a walk in the woods were indeed well-received – not in a broccoli-kind-of-way, but just as nourishing and true.
Questions to Ponder:
- What is not yours to do?
- Where does a deeper yes call you?
- How might you let go and follow your deeper yes?