God is an entity encompassing all. Breath, living, breathing…Being itself. Does this kind of God require offering and sacrifice? I don’t think the God Who is All That Is; the God “I Am” requires such things. We humans imagine manifestations of Being; gods who represent the best qualities we can imagine for a God Who is beyond our understanding. These gods become our focus for worship, our means of understanding the physical world we observe and the spiritual realm we sense around us.
Once in awhile a person comes along who reflects the very best we can imagine in a god or in a human being. These people become more than role models – they become reflections of Being. These humans are said to have attained a state of perfection, enlightenment, or even godhood. Many people see this reflection in the person of Jesus, who is believed to have attained Christhood and resurrection after death. Others find this reflection of Ultimate Being in Siddhartha, who is understood to have reached enlightenment and Buddhahood.
There are many other facets of the Divine. Some are found in the faces of the many gods and goddesses of the Hindus, who each reflect certain aspects of the best or the most powerful that we can become. The same might be said for the Orisha of Yoruba, Santeria and related religions, or the Loa of Vodou. These and many more glorious manifestations of our expectations of the Divine are prayed to, prayed with, conferred with, and served in many ways. Humans have long imagined that these beings have craved sacrifice and offerings to appease them or even to coax them into providing favors to us.
God doesn’t require the kinds of sacrifices and offerings that humans have historically felt the need to give. These things – burnt meat, fruits, or vegetables, flowers on an altar, incense waved around a room, lives given up or lived in misery “for the love of God” – these things are not what God requires. We do these things for ourselves. What God requires is service. Service given from open hands and open hearts without the desire for something in return is like a secret window looking into the house of God. This is clear from the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, the Hebrew prophets, Mohammed, and even Lao Tzu and Confucius. I don’t mean to say that sacrifice is never necessary. Often, in order to serve, sacrifice is necessary. However, it is not the sacrifice, but the service that matters.
What does it mean to serve? How do we serve? Who do we serve? When do we serve? I believe that to serve is to live a compassionate life. It is to live in Love. By living compassionately, one gives of oneself to others. In giving to others, one becomes a healthy, vital portion of the all encompassing entity that is God. For most of us, I think the idea of service has somehow become separate from the rest of our lives. Just as we often find it difficult to find money to give, we find it difficult to find time to serve. Yet, this should not be. In fact, today I discovered that it is not true at all.
While I am a parish priest, in order to make ends meet, I must work what we lovingly call a “day job.” Working as I do on the telephone, selling a product, I have been wondering how I can possibly be serving God while doing this. After all, it’s a full time job, I’m tired when I get home, and once I’m home there are household tasks to be done. For a long time, I have belabored my inability to give of my time and my money. I only seem to be able to eke out a living and a little time for ministry. So, when do I serve? How do I serve? What do I sacrifice in order to serve?
I’ve thought perhaps my service is in the words I speak to some of those with whom I interact on the phone, who often talk to me about much more than their need for the product I sell. Perhaps it is true that there is ministry in discussing kindness and suffering, loss and joy with people from across the country. Indeed, there are many times during my work days when I know I have touched the spirit of a hurting person and both of us have come away better for our conversation. However, the real service I find myself providing is much closer to home.
It’s all about the coffee. You see, at my job we are provided free coffee, tea, and cocoa in the break room (I know, we’re fortunate!) When I get to work, I put my purse away, take out my notebook and pens, set up my phone, and sign in to my computer. Then I grab my coffee cup and head to the break room. Where I usually find two quarter-pots of coffee, two empty pots, and a scattering of sugar and creamer on the counter. Each day, I get my cup of coffee, pour the coffee together into one pot, switch on the warmers, and make two more pots of fresh coffee. I clean the counters and set two filters with a packet of coffee in each one on top of the coffee machine. If I have time, I’ll make one more pot so there are close to four pots when I head in to work. In the end, all I have sacrificed is a bit of my free time, and I’ve provided a little caffeinated sustenance to many of my coworkers.
I do this because it needs to be done. I am not, by far, the only one who makes coffee. There are perhaps five or six of us who do this throughout the day. Yet it seems like every time I head into the break room, it needs to be done again. For the longest time I joked that I did it because the food service business was bred into me. “You can take the waitress out of the kitchen,” I would laugh, “But you can’t take the kitchen out of the waitress.” I make coffee because that’s what peons do. That’s what I thought, anyway. Until today. Today, as I finished setting up the third pot to brew and began to wipe down the counter, setting the creamer and sugar containers straight, I had a revelation about coffee.
Coffee is a daily service that I can provide. Each time I make the coffee for my coworkers, I am serving them. I am feeding them. Service need not be fancy, long-suffering, or expensive. It need not be far away, late into the night, or in dangerous places.
Of course, I have dreams of serving more fully as a parish priest, minister, and spiritual director as St. Brigid grows. There are factors that must come together before the dream can come into full fruition. In the meantime, I just make coffee. It’s what I do.
What do you do?