JESUS YOUTH:Being normal, ordinary and simple – with a difference
In our early days of the Renewal, often during leadership formation programs there would be a session called ‘the Normal Christian Life’. I don’t know if the phrase came from the book of the same name by the famous Chinese author Watchman Nee. Another amusing thing was that in those days, many people had the notion that a Renewal experience could upset the mental balance of some who were involved. Was the above mentioned session an attempt to clarify that the lifestyle we were trying to introduce in this radically new spirituality was indeed just true traditional Christianity?
On another note, in many of our early Jesus Youth informal gatherings we used to discuss the importance of an ordinary and simple Christian life. All around us we see attempts to be extraordinary.
The world in general, and at times even spirituality becomes so much showy and impressive – but here is a path where we opt to be simple and walking the way of the ordinary, but with a smile and a little fire inside. This ideal of becoming like all others, especially the ordinary ones around us, has a special place in Jesus Youth movement.
But isn’t this the true Christianity? Jesus could boldly say, ‘Come to me . . . I am gentle and lowly in heart’, Mary exclaimed ‘God has been mindful of the humble state of his servant’ and St Francis positively opted to give up external magnificence of all kinds choosing to be poor and simple. In many of our discussions during the early days of the movement, this challenge of becoming normal and ordinary assumed special significance.
But what does this option to be a joyful, ordinary Christian imply? Furthermore, to help us personally and as a community to examine ourselves, what are some of the areas in which there is a special call in the movement to change our ways and adopt the true spirit of ordinariness?
One: Bloom where you are planted
For about 5 years from 1982, the First Line group that paved the way for the movement used to gather together every month to share, reflect and go out with an action plan. After a few meetings at Vidyaniketan in Ernakulam we began meeting at Sneha Nilayam, a little outside the city. And in the group there was always a senior guiding hand in the form of Prof. Alicekutty, who was already a College Professor. One of her oft repeated phrases was this famous maxim, ‘bloom where you are planted’.
This saying is famously attributed to the Bishop of Geneva, Francis de Sales (1567-1622) who said the best way of doing good is shining brightly in the ordinary contexts in which we find ourselves. Of course, we are also reminded of the saying of Apostle Paul, “in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:24). Our discovery of a new meaning and a special call in our lives comes in a context. We are in a family, having a certain way of life and may be in some profession. All these indicate something about the full living of our call given to us by the Lord.
For most of us, life is a rat race led by the ‘carrot and stick’ principle. We may have seen this picture of someone sitting on a donkey with a carrot held a little in front of the animal and beating it with a stick at its back. Thus, most people are driven forward by the unpleasant pain of here and now towards the tempting future ahead of us. People in general want to somehow ‘avoid’ the present problems and ‘escape’ to some enjoyable promises. In a worldly way, a mad race towards success at any cost, or falling into addictions of different kinds, are often driven by the same avoidance principle. Even our spirituality and a life of Christian mission can sometimes be a personal ‘push’ to escape from the here and now.
At the heart of ‘blooming where you are’, there are these steps of, a reflection about, an understanding, in the light of faith, and a gradual acceptance as it is of myself, my context and those around me. This is quite different from seeing only problems in me and around me and wanting to run away from all those to a new ‘promised land’. Instead, this is ‘giving thanks in all circumstances, because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1Thes 5:18). This acceptance leading to appreciation when anointed with a spirit of joy becomes a beautiful mission. So, there is a big difference between just being where I am and seeing myself as ‘sent to where I am’, which in other words is living fully and actively here and now with a mission.
In Jesus Youth, at the heart of being a Normal Christian is this ‘blooming where you are planted’. You are in this family or neighbourhood, thank God for it. You are a man or a woman, see His beautiful design in it. I am gifted with a variety of special qualities, along with many limitations, check and see how the Lord will use them. In my life I go to new places, meet new friends, enter other phases of life, I will see all these as the Lord’s call to fuller life and greater mission.
In the movement, in the past few decades, many marvellous men and women have turned out to be shining examples of Christian witness in all kinds of places and professions. We have also seen numberless initiatives and small and big missionary steps by individuals and groups. When I look at all these, I see people trying in their simple ways to live a normal, joyful life in the various places in which they find themselves. Be a normal, ordinary Christian, blooming where you are planted!