Sunday, 27 November 2011

On guard

GospelMark 13:33-37 

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

There are many servants doing many things but only one of them is told to 'stay awake' - the doorkeeper.

When I first read this passage this year, I thought, surely, the doorkeeper must be really important - they have the responsibility of who does and doesn't have access to the Master's house - they have the keys; they are ones who guard the threshold. In Celtic and other native spiritualities, the threshold is an blessed place; a place of transition; a place of guarding. And yet - the paradox of the Gospel as usual - no-one is a doorkeeper.

 The doorkeeper, in Roman times, in Jesus' time, was the lowest of the servants, tied to the post in more ways than one - literally part of the furniture - certainly part of the door furniture. Found at every threshold from the family home to sacred temples; no more than human watchdogs.

In Latin the title is Ostiarius, and the tradition found a place in the house churches of the early Christians - presumably volunteers by this time - there was a lot to guard against - and then as guardians of church buildings. Ostiaries - the lowest of the minor clerical orders before Vatican II suppressed them.

The suppression, I am guessing, came about because their duties were simplistic and practical and didn't need academic or intellectual skill. Contemporary clerics are expected to be both academic and intellectual, at least throughout their formation - it must have made sense to leave these duties to the laity as sacristans and sextons.  So this is a Gospel for all of us and especially for the least of us.

The greatest of all duties is given to the least and.... there are so many doors.

As Paul tells us, we have our own temple;  our Godspace within. How do we acknowledge that?  Do we wait in expectation at the portal, taking time in contemplative prayer to bring ourselves to the place where we will recognise the approach of our Beloved?

We are surrounded by others in need of God's grace; do we notice them? Do we invite them into the experience of God's love for each of us? Do we see our Master in them?

Personally,  in the Advent of recent years, I have been called back to the last month of my first pregnancy - a long awaited child that had require both medical and Divine intervention that had made every month a milestone; every twinge a concern. Then in the eighth month, as part of the antenatal care, I had visited the maternity ward and all of a sudden realised that this child would be making an appearance; would need to move from the protective safety of my enfolding body to the wide world with all its risks and insecurities.  In that last month I learnt how to 'stay awake', to pay attention to the world and everything in it; to look forward to the promises made months before; to know that I had a place in the scheme of things and, more importantly, to know that it would never again be 'all about me'.



claire said...

What an absolutely beautiful post, Word. Every bit of it.

What strikes me about the porter, such a small job for a no one, is that several saints have held that job. St Catherine Labouré and St Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ. (I have just learned of them in the past weeks. Catherine, I discovered today).

I do like 'invisible saints' :-)

I also very much like what you wrote about Paul and what this may mean for us. A precious reflection.

As to your pregnancy, suddenly you make it so very real and 'feelable' the coming of Jesus in our lives.

Merci, thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh Word, this truly is beautiful. What a great reflection. I'm going to sit with it today - the portal to our hearts and souls, now, that is one important gate to watch!