By: Bridget McCormack-Finley
Tell about it.”
The late, great poet, Mary Oliver, gave us these “instructions for living a life.” When Mary passed away in January, social media and NPR were flooded with tributes to her and samples of her work, and it’s all beautiful. But these words in particular have really become guideposts for me.
One of my favorite stories in Scripture is found in three Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And in this story, Jesus is teaching in a house that is absolutely packed — wall to wall to wall to wall, shoulder-to-shoulder, no daylight between anyone. They’re crowded around the doors and the windows a few rows deep, and everyone is just trying to get a glimpse of Jesus’ face or hear a little bit of what he has to say.
Meanwhile, out on the margins of this big crowd, is a man lying on a mat who also wants to catch a glimpse of Jesus and hear his voice. He also wants to be in this crowd. But he’s unable to get there on his own. He’s paralyzed — we don’t know how or why or for how long — we just know that he just isn’t able to get where he needs to go on his own. And nobody is paying attention.
Until, a small group of people encounter him. And whenever I reflect on this story and it gets to this part, I can’t help but envision these people as CAP volunteers — wearing an assortment of WorkFest shirts and various flannels, probably tracking mud through the town. And they are paying attention.
We don’t know anything about this group of people. We don’t know if they knew this man, or if they were just passing through. We don’t know if they were from this town, or if they were visiting for a week… a month… a year. We do know that they took time away from wherever they were headed and whatever they were doing to see this man. To listen to him, and to hear him. To ask him what he needed, and to ask how they could serve. To love him.
And what really makes me think that this could have been a group of CAP volunteers is the implied moment when one of them — when faced with the impossible task of getting through this massive crowd of people — steps back, looks at the house, and says, “You guys wanna try the roof?” And they all look at each other and decide, “Yeah, all right.” And so all five of them make their way up onto the top of the house — four carrying one — they tear the roof off, and they get to Jesus. And I’ll wager a guess that everyone in that house was pretty astonished. And three out of four Gospel-writers decided to tell about it. We’re still telling about it.
But here’s the thing: None of that happens without an invitation and a response. None of that happens without the man on the mat having the strength and courage to be vulnerable and to speak a need. None of that happens without the entire group having a conversation, and discussing options, and being creative and bold and brave in carrying out the solution. And none of that happens without Jesus being the driving force in the center of it all.
We have all been the person on the mat. We have all been a person who is able to carry. If your WorkFest experience has been anything like mine, you probably filled both of those roles during this week. But when everything is said and done, the only way we’re getting to Jesus is if we’re going together.
So, keep paying attention. Keep paying attention to the things that amaze you and humble you and bring you peace and thrill you. Pay attention to the things that bore you and annoy you and challenge you. Pay attention to the things that make you thirst for justice and raise your voice. Pay attention to the little things as much as the big things, the quiet things as much as the loud things. Pay attention to the tiny, whispering sound that makes your heart beat a little faster.
And allow yourself to be astonished. Allow yourself to experience wonder and amazement. Be heartbroken and empathetic, but also be inspired and awe-struck. Be moved and be changed.
And in the midst of all of that, don’t stop telling about it. You are incredible, singularly incredible, and God is telling an extraordinary story with your life. Your story — every bit of it — deserves to be told in whatever way you feel called to tell it. What you did this week, the things you learned, the ways you grew, the people you met, the lives you touched, the obstacles you overcame, the love you shared, the community you experienced, the God you met — tell about it.
A hero of mine, Father Greg Boyle, rounds out his telling of that Gospel story by imagining a world and a life where we are forever tearing the roof off the place, making room in our communities and coming to Jesus together in service until one day we look outside the doors of that house and there’s no one left on the margins. There is no daylight between us.
Mary Oliver also said that “attention is the beginning of devotion.” CAP and Eastern Kentucky first caught my attention ten years ago when I came to serve for a week as a senior in college, and this place has been an object of my devotion ever since. I never stop being astonished by the beauty of these hills, or the generosity and hospitality of our communities, or the incredible love of our volunteers. So, I can’t help but tell about it.
I’m sure you know by now that we would love to have you back here with us, whether it’s for the next WorkFest, or for a summer, or a semester, or a year. But more than anything, we want to make sure that when you make your way down from this mountain, you carry with you the knowledge that you have been given — or you will be given — everything you need to do whatever it is God is calling you to. You have done amazing things this week, and you will continue to do amazing things. You were built for this.