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what are you carrying?

St. Dunstan's Basilica, Charlottetown, PEI
Disciple: pupil, apprentice, learner, follower, student.

Jesus called disciples, inviting them to follow him, learn from him, live with him, and do what he did. I have given my life to being a disciple of Jesus. In my particular case, it takes the form of prayer and mindfulness, it happens through theological formation, it is present in the tasks of leading and administration, it shines through making music and art and participating in worship, and it is woven into my relationships. I perhaps feel closest to being a disciple of Jesus when I catch glimpses of beauty in skies and trees and animals and oceans and words and eyes, when my heart knows it is too small to contain the wonders it witnesses each and every day.

But being a disciple is more than emulating a master craftsman's values and practices. A disciple also believes that the world would be a better place if others learned the ways of their teacher. In other words, disciples don't want the teachings and practices of their mentor to die with them. They want them to be passed on from generation to generation. Being a disciple, a learner, comes somewhat naturally to me, but being a disciple-maker is just plain hard. The first is primarily concerned with my own growth and transformation, but the second requires me to look beyond myself, to make significant sacrifices in order to facilitate growth and transformation in others. It is the difference between preparing a tasty meal for my own enjoyment and spending all day cooking for guests.

Being a disciple-maker is the best and the worst job I have ever had. In general, I feel ill-equipped to help form the lives and practices of others. There are days when it seems impossible and I fear that I am both a bad student and a horrible teacher. But there are also days when it fills me with wonder and joy and there is nothing I would rather be doing than helping others learn to walk with Jesus. In other words, I seem to have much in common with Jesus's twelve disciples: slow, inept, self-absorbed, yet hopeful, eager, filled with spurts of faith, and willing to try anything the master asks me to do.

While in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island last week, I stepped into St. Dunstan's Basilica for a few moments of contemplation. As I sat there in silence, my gaze was drawn to two statues. On my left was a sculpture of Joseph carrying the infant Jesus. On my right was Jesus carrying the cross on his shoulders, flanked by two men. The two images became connected in my mind: we carry Jesus and he carries us. As a disciple, I recognize that my master Jesus carries my mistakes, my weaknesses, all the places I fall short, my shame and guilt, my burdens, my worries, my doubts, my whole work-in-progress life. Jesus unburdens us, rescues us, and saves us. But he also asks us to carry him, to lift him up, to hold him in our arms, to care for him as we would a young child, to treat him as a precious gift, to always be attentive to his presence and nearness, and to take him with us everywhere we go, to the all places and the people in our lives. Even as I write this, I wonder if it is really right. The Eternal, Almighty God asking me to carry him? It is a mystery, the mystery of a God who humbly unites himself with humanity in all its fragility, being present to us in ways which undercut our narrow narratives in which we engage in endless power games, hungry for the appearance of success, hopelessly addicted to the hollow trophies of fame and fortune. Instead of giving us a way to conquer the world and become great, Jesus gives us a way to serve. We honour and serve him best when we carry him.

And this, perhaps, is another way to think of disciple-making. Instead of viewing it as the overwhelming task of convincing people that God is real and getting them to change their bad habits and making them obedient followers and teaching them correct doctrines, perhaps disciple-making is as simple as carrying Jesus wherever we go. Jesus is the one who inspires. Jesus is the one who teaches. Jesus is the one who transforms. Jesus is the one with the authority (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus is the one who promises to always be with us. We simply carry him wherever we go. And as we do, the world is changed.

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