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Stewarding our DevotionBy Gena Minnix
Years ago, my family lived in the Pacific Northwest, where we faced much longer, colder, and darker winters than we do here in Austin. To cope with the seemingly endless days without sunshine or warmth, my husband and I started a new annual tradition: watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Together, we warded off winter despair by cozying up in lush, green Hobbiton, traipsing through Fangorn forest, and braving the fires of Mordor. This annual tradition not only gave us a welcome escape from the dreariness outside, it also invited us to reflect on the same set of questions each year: What burdens were we carrying that season? What fellowships were we being summoned to join? What seemed to be the great battles of our time?
The yearly engagement with the unlikely characters of the fellowship of the ring impressed upon me that great battles are often not won through violence or brute force. Rather, the outcome is often decided by where we choose to invest our love and devotion. Our devotion, fueled by love, is a powerful resource for influencing the outcome of major events. So how do we steward our devotion well, in light of the great battles of our time?
Our “great battle”
Environmental degradation and loss due to climate shifts may prove to be among the greatest battles of our time. And the enemy appears to be us: our patterns of consumption, our reliance on toxic fuels, and and the infrastructure of our economy which requires and reinforces quick-moving business ventures.
Rising sea levels, warming oceans, dying coral reefs, and animal extinctions–these are the casualties of our economic practices. But we are also the beneficiaries of those economic practices. A system of rewards and punishments–pleasure and pain–may not be enough to leverage large-scale change. It’s easy to feel powerless as this great battles bears down upon us. Things are already in motion that are extremely difficult to undo.
Where is our heart?
Frodo, Aragorn, and their friends seemed hopelessly ill-equipped for battle. Their armor didn’t fit properly; much of the time they were leaderless. They were almost entirely outmatched in skill, weaponry, and material resources. But they succeeded in turning the tide of the great battle, and as a result, the beauty of their natural world was preserved for future generations. Their victory seemed to hinge on some relatively small choices: Where is your heart? Who do you love? To whom are you devoted?
The root of the word “devoted” evokes a sense of profound religious emotion, awe, or reverence for someone to whom we vow or solemnly promise to sacrifice ourselves if necessary. In Matthew, Jesus teaches that we have some choice about who or what we devote ourselves to.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
Jesus offers seven different teachings about devotion in the sixth chapter of Matthew, and we might understand this to be the theme at the heart of each of these teachings. Devotion involves how we think about what’s necessary for our survival, and determines how we engage the practices of prayer and fasting. Devotion involves how we perceive others and God, in the eye of our mind. Devotion involves how we spend our time, and how much we worry about our own needs being met, versus being open-handed and generous in our trusting that there will be enough to go around.
Ultimately, devotion may come down to who we trust. And trust requires an investment of time spent face-to-face. So how do we go about stewarding our devotion well? How do we invest our time and energy–our heart–in ways that will increase our trust in God and one another, that we may draw upon that resource as we face the great battles of our time?
Stewarding our devotion
Perhaps quiet, contemplative prayer is one practice for stewarding our devotion well. By allowing the Spirit to probe us inwardly, face-to-face, we are stewarding our devotion–our time and relational energy–in growing a more loving, trusting relationship with the Spirit. Perhaps fasting is another practice. By intentionally experimenting with saying “no” now and then to the inner voice that says, “You need this to survive”, we are stewarding our devotion to growing a more loving, trusting relationship with God.
We may not even be able to predict the resources that will become available to us when we choose to steward our devotion in this way. But we can predict what will happen if we make no choice at all. Large scale environmental degradation, loss of animal species, floods and fires–these are less outcomes we choose, and more the outcomes of us not choosing something different. Like a boat tossed at sea, our devotion has the tendency to drift off course unless we intentionally choose otherwise.
But the hopeful news is this: we don’t have to know what to do, or have all the answers now. Frodo and his friends discovered their battle was less about brute force or strength, and more about love, heart, and devotion to one another–an investment of time and face-to-face relating. And our great battle to preserve the beauty of the natural world and the flourishing of animal species within it may hinge on our ability to steward our own devotion as well.
Therefore, perhaps our prayer might be this:
“Loving God, when we feel overwhelmed by the great battles facing us, help us to choose small things we can do each day. When we feel hopeless in the face of large-scale systems that seem impossible to change, help us trust that through prayer and fasting we are preparing ourselves to be resources when called upon. Help us to grow our loving, trusting relationship with you that when the Spirit moves, together we’ll turn the tide for the sake of the environment. We trust as we devote ourselves to you, your love will guide the way. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.”
Questions for further reflection:
“What do I see as the relationship between my love and devotion to God, and my care and concern for the natural world?”
“How might I steward my devotion to God, and to creation, by choosing a small practice like prayer or fasting in this season?”
This spring, we will continue to devote Sowing Holy Questions to issues of stewardship, now giving special attention to the role of humans–and the calling of Christians–as stewards or trustees of the non-human creation around us.
Dr. Gena Minnix is the Director of the Loise Henderson Wessendorff Center for Christian Ministry and Vocation, and Associate Professor of Counselor Education. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist trained in systemic therapies, EMDR, trauma and neuroscience, attachment and play therapy, and the Enneagram. In 2013, Gena helped co-found The Human Empathy Project, a nonprofit in Austin that exists to foster empathic connection with members of faith and LGBTQ communities. She is the author of several articles and chapters on the intersection of spiritual, religious, and ethical values in counseling, and is currently working on a book that applies neuroscience to Christian theology. Dr. Minnix and her family attend Vox Veniae church in East Austin.
BA, The University of Texas at Austin
MA, George Fox University, Portland, Oregon
PhD, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX
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