The meaning of discipleship
During a walk in a park, I came across a small grove of oak trees that had blanketed the ground with more acorns than I had ever seen. It wasn’t possible to take a step without crushing them underfoot, and the noise caught the attention of the dozen or more squirrels reaping the bountiful harvest.
I stooped down to pick up a handful of acorns and marveled at the perfect little packages of life God had crafted. It was easy to see God’s hand in the busy scenario before me. Everything was as it should be, and it seemed even the squirrels were aware of it.
They instinctively knew what to do — intent, and content if that is possible for squirrels, on their mission.
It is not always so easy for people.
Our instinctive yearning and journeying toward God is often complicated by our own desires. We are enticed by the values of the world and lose sight of the great beauty and purpose of our lives.
We fail to see the incredible fruitfulness of simply gathering and burying acorns.
For me, living our divine purpose is the meaning of discipleship — to know God, love God and live that love in relationship with all God has created.
My vehicle for living out my mission is writing, something I’ve understood as God’s plan for me since I was a child. I sensed there was something about the power of words that could create good and beauty and help people discover God in themselves. Then, one day, I watched the movie, “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and I was certain.
The movie, adapted from a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, tells the story of a poor farmer who unwittingly sells his soul to the devil for seven years of prosperity. When the time comes for the devil to claim him, the farmer seeks the aid of famed lawyer Daniel Webster, who defends him in a trial with the devil as prosecutor.
Still a child, I was on the edge of my seat watching Daniel overcome the devil through his skilled oration and moral standing. “How powerful are words when they can save a man’s soul!” I thought.
So I took up the pen as my sword for doing good, but, in time, would learn the important lesson that words had the power to claim souls as well.
My adult life, as a wife and mother of six, put a hold on my writing for a while, and I sometimes wondered if I lost sight of my purpose.
What I failed to realize at the time was that God had simply called me to new work, new ways of creating good and beauty and helping people find God in themselves and others.
While raising my family and developing relationships, and especially during difficult times when I was nurtured by friends, I remembered the value of simple gifts, simple acts of love that make a difference — being a good friend, listener, counselor, prayer partner; by expressing gratitude through sharing God’s blessings; preparing a meal; by providing a place to stay; by being hospitable.
Discipleship did not mean having to change the world, and I took the lesson to heart through the example of an elderly woman in my parish who had moved into a nursing home and was rarely able to leave her bed.
She had a practice of greeting everyone who came into her room — nurses, maintenance staff, visitors — by telling them how beautiful they were. Her delightful expressions of welcome, affirmation and gratitude were, in their own way, transformational for those who experienced the gift of her presence.
When asked about why she was always so gracious, she shared that it was her mission from God to make everyone feel loved and beautiful no matter her circumstances, or theirs, and doing so gave her joy.
For me, the best wisdom for our lives as disciples is the simple wisdom of St. Edith Stein: “Learn to live at God’s hands.”
—Originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.