As I write this (on Wednesday morning) it seems as if the whole world is sitting on the edge of its seat.
How will Poland and NATO respond to the rockets that have landed in Przedwodów killing two people?
Will world leaders meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27 and Bali for the G20 take meaningful actions to ensure global warming remains under 1.5˚ C or will it just be more talk and little action?
And here in the UK we sit on the edge of our seats wondering if the Chancellor will make the political choice of implementing a new round of austerity or will his budget be government by the principal EF Schumacher cried out for all those years ago, “economics as if people mattered”?
We sit on the edge of our seats wondering which road our political leaders will go down, all too aware that the road they choose will make all the difference for billions of people.
Two roads diverged …
Thinking of roads to go down makes me think of Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road not Taken.
The first stanza reads:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Two Spiritual Roads that diverged
Many historians of Christianity reflect that metaphorically speaking early in the life of the church and individual Christians two roads in our walks with God diverged in a way whereby people could not, or did not, travel both: the Vita Activa and Vita Contemplativa.
The Christian’s life seemed to divide into those who were activists and “doers” (Vita Activa), and those who chose a life of prayer and contemplation (Vita Contemplativa).
Like the traveller in Frost’s poem, the road one chose to take “made all the difference” to how you viewed and experienced life.
This chasm has throughout church history troubled various figures who, drawing on the example and teachings of Jesus, have tried to model and argue that the divergence is false; the Vita Activa and Vita Contemplativa belong together. They are two sides of the one coin!
Indeed, one of the very positive things to happen in Church life over say the past 20 years has been a growing consensus among various theologians, biblical scholars, and Christian leaders of multiple traditions that the divide between doing and being is a false one …and to be fruitful, to be faithful followers of Jesus we need both.
This Sunday we will reflect upon John 15: 1–19 which very much speaks about the unity of being (abiding) and doing (going). How do we hold these two together, personally in our own lives and corporately in the life of the church?
I’ve deliberately chosen not to stop at verse 17 but to carry our bible reading onto verse 19.
Many bibles have a paragraph break between the end of verse 17 and the start of verse 18, however, I have included verses 18 – 19 because it grounds this in reality. It reminds us that Jesus did not promise that following him, and abiding in him, would lead to an easy life. Indeed, he seems to have promised the exact opposite!
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
For us, the two roads which diverge is not a choice between being (Vita Contemplativa) or doing (Vita Activa), between worship and prayer, or service and activism. It is between following and going our own way.
The road “less travelled by”, which makes all the difference is a faithful following of Jesus.
And so, I end with the words of one of my favourite theologians, the late Johan Baptist Metz (1928 – 2019).
“To follow Jesus means ultimately not only to admire him, to take him as a model, as can still be said by a moderate bourgeois theology in order to keep oneself unharmed, but something more radical and more dangerous: putting him on, putting Christ on (Rom. 13:14).”
See you all on Sunday.