Tucked away in the story of Adam and Eve, almost like a side note, we find this little nugget:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15
Right from the beginning, God gives Adam a job to do, in effect sharing the responsibilities for the upkeep of creation. God wanted partners who would co-author the story of humankind.
St. Catherine of Siena summed up this relationship in The Dialogue, her conversations with God, where God says, “…though I created you without your help, I will not save you without it.”
Almost six centuries later, the civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer echoed St. Catherine’s wisdom in earthier tones: “You can pray until you faint, but if you don’t get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
God alone set up the natural order but when it came to tending the garden, God decided not to fly solo and, instead, invited us to do our part. And it’s not a bit part either. God depends on us to bring God’s presence into the world. Jesus teaches us this in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This parable is my personal favorite. It comes at the end of Jesus’ last teaching session with his disciples where he gives them the vision of things to come. He tells them about the imminent siege and destruction of Jerusalem, then turns to the terrible upheaval that will come with the Day of the Lord when God intervenes to bring in the new age. He warns them that no one knows when this will happen except God, so they better be prepared.
Finally, the “Son of Man shall come in his glory…and all nations will be assembled before him” where, like a shepherd, he will separate the sheep from the goats. He turns to the sheep and tells them to “come…enter into possession of the Kingdom” and tells them why. He tells them that they fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, took him in when he was a stranger, clothed him when he was naked, looked after him when he was sick, and visited him when he was in prison.
The sheep are clearly confused by this. They answer (my version), “Um, Lord, I don’t remember doing all this stuff for you.” Jesus lets them in on the secret and tells them that “whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I wondered if Ma (that’s what I called my mom) had this parable in mind when she wrote these words on a 3×5 card: “I am God’s activity. How do I act?”
I found the card while going through her papers and belongings to get her house ready for sale. I found it odd on two counts. First, her question has an almost Zen-like quality, and, for the most part, Ma wasn’t very Zen like. Second, Ma was very organized, with all of her writings organized in labeled folders meticulously stored in file boxes and this card was “free floating” in a pile of papers on her desk.
What struck me about the words is how emphatic they were. It didn’t start with a conditional phrase, “If I am God’s activity…” For Ma, this was a given, she was God’s activity.
For those who knew Ma, the question “How do I act?” is pure Ma. She was the master at asking questions – eternally curious – and I credit her for fueling my desire to go and find out. Her question acts like a Zen riddle. It is designed to open us up and encourages us to dig in, explore, and discuss.
While reading through her nearly three hundred poems, I found a poem that I think was inspired by the words on the 3×5 card:
God Through Me
by Pat Bulko
God sees through me;
What does he see?
God hears through me;
What does he hear?
God speaks through me;
What does he speak?
God lives through me;
What does he live?
God feels through me;
What does he feel?
God loves through me;
What does he love?
See, hear, speak.
Live, feel, love.
Ma believed in being a moving prayer.
Eternal God, Guide my steps along the way and help me stay true to your purposes.