by Fr Ben Maas
Despite the fact that I have not turned a shovel of dirt or driven a nail, there is something remarkably satisfying about watching the expansion take place. I make it a regular part of my day to see the progress. Even before the first sign of construction, I reveled in the enormous hole that provided a glimpse of what would eventually fill the space. I have had a childlike enthusiasm on those big days when walls or floors are poured. Now with the basement formed and the foundation of what will be the new school entrance in place, I can practically envision the completed wing. I find myself looking over the construction sign with the completed rendering and then at the site, attaching finished walls, windows, a roof, etc. Even on the occasions where weather interrupts work or those days that just don’t show remarkable progress, I still find myself looking out the window and appreciating how far we have come.
I share this with you, not to confess a fixation, but because I find the construction process in such stark juxtaposition to many of the other aspects of my life. The progress is so tangible. We even have a regularly updated construction schedule that not only articulates what we see out the window but also lets us know step-by-step what to expect next. I am very excited about the expansion and renovation, but I think it is the ability to evaluate where we are that draws my attention. In fact, I am much more enthusiastic about the ministry that has necessitated these new spaces than the spaces themselves as well as how these ministries will grow within them.
Reflecting on five years of ministry together, the same tension exists. The times where I felt the most proud of Saint James’, or moments where I felt the greatest sense of living into my call as rector, were moments not reflected in balance sheets, new initiatives, or quantifiable or visible growth. They were profoundly human moments, times where we held one another’s hand, shed a few tears, made difficult decisions, even fretted and trembled a bit. However, as I have tried to assess our ministry the quantifiable seems to present most easily.
As I also consider my responsibility as parent, I have to admit a similar disproportionate focus on the quantifiable, where progress can be easily measured. I push homework, drills, and practice. I monitor grades, number of songs learned on the guitar, and celebrate runs batted in, goals scored, and shots made. My deepest desire is for my children to be happy, kind, compassionate, respectful people of integrity. I want them to have a strong faith and a community that will point toward that loving, redeeming, and grace filled God when they fall and when they soar. I want them to carry with them the unwavering knowledge that they are lovable and made perfectly whether they strikeout or have a paper returned awash with red ink, yet I wonder if the more measurable goals ring louder.
Every year, we, the church, invite you into this Holy season of Lent. We suggest that you use this season to deepen your faith, to listen more intently to God’s call, to draw your life closer to God; however, there is not an easy gauge for this. We seldom can say we started our Lenten journey a 4 on our discipleship gauge and ended as an 8 – success!!! For 46 days (40 if we pardon ourselves on Sunday), we may take on or take off the quantifiable – go without dessert, caffeine, social media, or alcohol, or add regular exercise, an established period of silent reflection, intentional prayer, or reading of scripture. The difficulty is that what we seek does not have a grade, status report, or building schedule. Some days we look at our relationship with God, and it looks like a half-built addition with completion in sight, but the next day there is not so much as a hole in the ground. At the very least, this season reminds us that much of what truly matters in life cannot be measured but desperately needs to be tended. So we do our best to follow the example of Jesus who wandered in the wilderness praying for the clarity, strength, and obedience to live the life God intended, even if fully living that life didn’t promise escalating popularity, power, and security but ultimately death on the cross. If even Jesus needed to step away from all of those tempting yardsticks of success to live in solidarity with God, how much more do we need this season of Lent?
I pray that all are able to take the time to draw our hearts toward God. I promise, time with God is never wasted and the fruits, while often invisible, are truly what nourishes.