My mother died May 7, 1993, it was a difficult time. But it was also a time that began to awaken my spirit to the power of small things.
When my mother’s pastor -who was also a close friend and spiritual mentor to me- asked what part I wanted to play in my mother’s funeral, I sat with that question for some time. There were things I knew I wanted to say, ways I wanted to honor my mother’s life, but I also knew that as a daughter I needed to be comforted and I didn’t want to have to put on my “clergy face” and burry my feelings. So, finally I told him that I would write something that he or someone else could read.
Over the next day or so, as the family gathered and preparations were being made, I asked my brother, my sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews and my own children what they would remember most about Althea Jane Hettinger Pfaltzgraf.
As they shared stories and memories, as we laughed and cried together, I began to understand that the power in my mother’s love was her ability to let the light of Divine Love shine through her words and her deeds. And as I pondered this realization the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta rose from somewhere in the depths of my memory bank: “We cannot all do great things in life, but we can all do small things with great love.” Hence was born a litany that contained short story sentences that began “Jane was a woman who….” after which the congregation would respond: “We cannot all do great things in life, but we can all do small things with great love.”
This past week in the face the terrorist attacks around the world and the ramping up of world-wide grief, fear and anxiety, as well as pervasive grief in the congregation where my husband serves as Interim Transitional Pastor following the death of one of the saints of the congregation, I sat with my spiritual life coach musing about how we can stay grounded and centered in the midst of so much pain and fear. She said something about how practicing exformational activities to keep her bodyspirit clear and staying centered in her life’s purpose helped her. My response was “Yes, I understand the importance of that. I know that my life purpose has to do with opening the way for love and grace to be more present in people’s lives and the world. My challenge is to trust that the little bit I do along with the little bits others do really can make a difference in the face of so much grief, fear, hatred and pain.”
We talked about this from many different in many different ways and we did some breathing and moving with it. Then just before the end of our session she asked, “have you every thought about writing about the theology of small things?”
To which I responded “No,” not even sure what she meant by her question. But since it was the end of our time, we concluded our session and I began to play with what she might mean. I danced a bit with it and then set the question aside to tend to other things that I needed to do.
Later I picked up the book that the prayer group I attend is using and began reading the reflection we would be discussing the next morning. The reflection began with the scripture from Matthew 28 that ends with the words “insofar as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” The rest of the meditation was focused on calling readers to do small things, using whatever gifts they have been given, to bring justice and love and grace to the world, one person, one act of kindness at a time. But most importantly an invitation to allow the spirit to soften us so that Divine Love might flow through all we do and say.
That’s when I remembered my mother and the quote from Mother Teresa: “We cannot all do great things in life, but we can all do small things with great love.”
Now I have to confess to you, that I have always felt deep in my bones that I am called to do something great to bring healing and love and hope to the world. And I have ALWAYS felt like I have failed miserably because I have not done any great things. The question I must now ponder, the truth I must now face is this, “Have I done small things with as much love as I can muster? Or perhaps more accurately, have I done small things with as much openness to the Source of Love as I can achieve in any given moment?”
I’m not sure if this is what my coach meant when she suggested I might write about the theology of small things, but the more I ponder her question and search my own body data, body knowledge and body wisdom, the more I am certain that all of life is made up of small things. Even those things that seem like great things -getting married, the birth of a child, the end of apartheid, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the passage of marriage equality laws in so many states, whatever you would call a great thing…. aren’t they all really made up of lots of small things fired and fueled by love? Now let me be clear, I’m talking about LOVE not sentimentality; love that sees the value and worth of each and every person, in fact of all of creation; love that desires the highest good for all; love that is an attitude; love that empowers us to care even about those we would call enemy; love that passes our human understanding; love that flows from the heart of the one I call God; the one others call Allah or Buddha, or Goddess or the Great Spirit or Creator or.…
Small things with great love! Maybe that will change the world! I hope so! It is my prayer! It is my promise to myself and others to keep asking the question and doing what i can do and trusting the One who loves us all to make it so!
Thank you for that example, Mom! Thank you for those words, Mother Teresa! Thank you to all those people who have filled my life with small things fueled by great love!