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  • Helms Jarrell

Small Things, Great Love

I've been thinking about the mothers of my faith. Thanks to a newly gifted tshirt, Dorothy Day comes to mind often. Thanks to an easy to remember slogan, Mother Theresa has been ringing in my ears.


As the director of a nonprofit, I've been working closely with staff (radishes) to keep all of our minds, bodies, spirits, and emotions healthy during these difficult days. One of our strategies for doing that, among many, is to creatively find ways to connect and communicate with others. Connection builds community and it also restores our souls. Creative communication requires imagination, dreaming, and trying new things, something we need in these moments of numbness and uncertainty.


As we've been planning together, I've noticed a repeating pattern: 1) A radish will have an idea. It will be a good idea. 2) A radish will see the potential of the idea to heal themselves and others. 3) The radish will, within a few seconds, scale the idea so that it can make the biggest impact possible. 4) The radish will become overwhelmed at the size and difficulty of the scaled idea. 5) The uncertainty and difficulty of the current world health and social structure will bear weight on the radish. 6) The radish will feel paralyzed.


I have noticed this pattern within myself. 1) I would like to connect with the people who were very formative for me. I will write a letter. 2) I can think of 2, 5, 8, 12, 25 people who have been formative. I will write letters to these people 3) I bet, if they knew each other, they would like each other and they would support one another. I'll start a letter writing campaign to get them to write each other. Maybe this will go viral. 4) When-in between work, kids, neighborhood, garden, dog, house, dishes- will there be enough time to write 2 letters much less 25. And a campaign? yeah right! 6) I don't know what to say. I can't find the words right now. All the letters will say the same thing. I need a nap.


I've told myself and the radishes. "Do the smallest thing possible." Find the smallest task and just do that: write on a post it note a nice word and put it on the mirror. Take a picture of it and text it to a friend. What's the smallest thing you can do? Do that.


Five years ago, Greg and I were co-pastors of a church. [Note here: if you ever need a preacher, I love preaching and never get a chance to preach anymore.] I love preaching, but I hate giving a sermon a title. Often times, I wouldn't title a sermon. How do you capture a full sermon into a pithy phrase? [Another note: I wish I had titled the sermons because now when I go back to find them, I can't remember what to look for and the sermons are usually titled by the scripture text. ] I only remember a handfull of sermon titles that I came up with. This one sticks out the most: "Do what you can do. That's all you can do."


I remember feeling clever about this title because it was easy to remember and catchy and also because it could mean different things with different inflections on different words....

"Do what you can do. That's all you can do."- This was probably what I was going for on the day of the sermon. Church people, will you please take action and do something? You have a lot of abilities, access, and resources. You can do a lot. I want to see you do all of it. Let's go!

And now, if I were to preach this sermon to the radishes this morning, it would be something like, "Do what you can do. That's all you can do." Radishes, things are extremely weird, uncertain, hard, sad, and surprisingly hopeful all at the same time. We're experiencing a time like none other. Find the small things you can do, given the many restrictions and overwhelm. Only do the small things. The small things are enough. Trust that what we do at the small has an effect on the large.


adrienne maree brown puts it this way:

How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale.
These patterns emerge at the local, regional, state, and global level—basically wherever two or more social change agents are gathered. There’s so much awareness around it, and some beautiful work happening to shift organizational cultures. And this may be the most important element to understand—that what we practice at the small scale sets the patterns for the whole system.
Grace Lee Boggs articulated it in what might be the most-used quote of my life: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the Planet.

Mother Theresa has a well known quote: "Do small things with great love." My earlier-than-now understanding of her quote was something like: Do a lot of little things. Do all the little things. Your individual human acts are small in the big scheme of things, so do them. Do all the human things you can do. They may be small because you're small, but do them. And do them with deep genuine love. If you do all the small things- again, because you're small and that's all you can do- and if you do all the things with love, then eventually, it'll add up to something big. Sometimes, I still think this way. And maybe this way of thinking is helpful and good.


In these moments, lately, though, I've come to a new perspective on Mother Theresa's words. Mother Theresa's context was one highly concentrated in poverty, oppression, and disease. The symptoms and effects of poverty, oppression, and disease were extremely prevalent, weighing down, they were her reality. The strangling effects ("I can't breathe!") of poverty, oppression, and disease are only getting heavier and heavier here too. Now, Mother Theresa's words, "Do small things with great love," take on different meaning and nuance. All we can do right now is the smallest of things. And the smallest of things are the things we're called to. You are yeast, mustard seed, cup of water, lily, sparrow. Plant the seed, bake the bread, walk the mile, visit the neighbor. Draw a picture in the dirt, tell a story, write a song, pray a prayer. Check to make sure you're infusing love- love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. That's it. That's all. That's everything.




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