Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Point to Ponder #10: Balance and Poise
As I enter the third decade of my own diaconal experience, though, this truth, while certainly self-evident, is no less valid. I recently came across a word I had not heard in many years, but which captured the essence of balance: EQUIPOISE. Equipoise means to distribute weight equally, but it also has the sense of having a "dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession." I like the combination of meanings here, especially as it might apply to any of us in life, and not only to deacons.
As deacons we must balance our relationships with God, family and friends, work and church; we must also balance the formal ministries of Word, Sacrament and Charity. That's a lot of balance that calls for a lot of poise as well.
In the early years of diaconate formation in the United States, and still found in some locations still, we used to hear of the "deacon's priorities." First, his relationship with God; second, his relationship with family; third, his relationship with his job; fourth, his relationship with the church (in other words, his formal ministry). While on a certain practical level, this prioritization makes some sense, it is also a bit nonsensical. In fact, one priest-friend of mine who has spent decades in diaconal formation work, calls it outright heresy! Why?
Because we are not so easily compartmentalized. The implication given by the priority list is that, if diaconal ministry is getting in the way of family life, or work life, then it should just go away until those other "problems" get cleared up. As I said, on a certain level, this can be practical and necessary. But on a deeper level, it conveys a sense that the diaconate is simply one compartment of my life and that I can take off the diaconate, even temporarily, just like I take off an alb, stole and dalmatic. And that's where the problem comes in.
Because once ordained, we are deacons 24/7/365. I am a deacon who wrestles with his relationship with God, a deacon in relationship with my family, a deacon dealing with issues at my secular employment, and a deacon in ministry. Far too often, the impression can be given that the only time we're involved "in ministry" is when we're at the parish or involved in some kind of "church" business. That's just not the case with deacons any more than its the case with priests or bishops: once ordained, you're never NOT a deacon, and it's not a disposible thing.
Furthermore, WITHIN our official ministries there needs to be equipoise as well. All find their source in the Eucharist, so our own identity and strength for service comes from our ministry of Sacrament; we are called and ordained to be a Herald of the Gospel, even within (as well as outside) the eucharist, so our ministry of Word is essential; and all of that serving and preaching and teaching leads us to Charity. All the dots must connect, especially since we are ordained to be "icons" of Christ the Servant. People should be able to see, in our own attempts to find and achieve a "poised balance" in our lives, the same equipoise to which we are all called through sacramental initiation.
So all of this requires great skill at being poised, confident, and balanced. There will be times, hopefully, not too many, when things will become unbalanced and we crash. But I believe that the very heart of the sacrament known as the diaconate lies in that balanced existence in service of God and others. We can't just pick and choose those parts of it that we like, and we can't just dump it if things get uncomfortable. This is why prayer is the foundation for all of us. Our relationship with God can help us find, maintain, regain and perpetuate our "balanced poise" in the service of others.
How are we all doing (deacons and everyone else) at finding and achieving a balance in lives and ministry? This is the core of the sacramental life.
Well, this certainly took longer to get posted than I anticipated! I hope it's of some use.
Blessed Advent, everyone!