14 June 2009

Torches and Buckets

Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, saw an angel rushing towards her, carrying a torch and a bucket of water. “Where are you going with that torch and bucket?” she asked. "What will you do with them?”

“With the water,” the angel answered, “I will put out the fires of hell, and with the fire I will burn down the mansions of heaven; then we will see who really loves God.”

I have forgotten where I first read or heard this quote, but the image it conjures in my mind has stayed with me for years. As it teased my imagination, so it has been one of the building blocks of my spirituality--which, if I am truthful about it--has always been "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" (with thanks to Fiddler on the Roof).

I've yet to find an illustration, but I want one, desperately. I wonder if we could live our lives without the threat of punishment or the promise of reward. Could we just do the right thing because it is the right thing? I hope so.

In terms of prison ministry, carrying this story within me means that I don't fall in line with the "scare them away from hell" folks. Fear is all some people understand. The criminal justice system certainly makes that clear. But I don't have to go along with it. I don't have to co-opt that vocabulary and vision. There's room in my thinking for doing things just because they are the right things to do.

I hope I have that courage.


whisperingwhispers said...

So much truth here. Sure the correction system tries so hard to scare people strait, but sometimes they need to know that people care, that they too are loved, and can love themselves. Jesus showed many just that now it is our turn to follow in His steps and do the samething.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Interesting question: "I wonder if we could live our lives without the threat of punishment or the promise of reward. Could we just do the right thing because it is the right thing?"
I do not work in prisons; I work in international education, both as an administrator and as a consultant. The question, however, is equally valid there. For years, I have tried to teach educational leaders (deans, provosts, etc.) that they can only do a good job if they are willing to lose their job. If one feels that one must keep one's job, no matter what, then one does things right (to quote Bennis's management theory), but if one is willing to lose one's job, then one can do the right thing. Unfortunately, few educational leaders are willing to put their jobs on the line for their faculty. Most prefer to do things right; few choose to do the right thing.
I have lost my job before by doing the right thing, rather than doing things right. I would do it again. It is not about reward and punishment. It is about following God. Nonetheless, there is reward when one follows God: a reputation as an honest, ethical, and competent leader, the long-term gratitude of the faculty, and that feeling of joy that comes when one knows that one has indeed done the right thing. AND, God has never failed to lead me on to something better whenever my managerial behavior has reflected scriptural values.

Jimmy said...

Actually this story is about a woman named Rabia; you can read more about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabia_al-Adawiyya.

It is a wonderful moral.