(Roman Cybak is a retired military man who lives near Charlottesville, Virginia. A regular reader here, he served as host and coordinator for my visit to Charlottesville a few years ago, just about a year before that town was victim of some nasty street theatre and ugliness. Charlottesville is a beautiful town, home of the University of Virginia. I met a lot of wonderful people there. Cybak is also a regular lector at his Parish. He submitted this insightful little contemplation, evocative of St. Paul’s peroration about many gifts and one same spirit. It can be helpful to each of us as we make our way forward, giving thanks for the variety of gifts and personalities God has given each of us.-CJ)
By Roman Cybak
I’ve been a volunteer Lector/Reader at Masses for over four decades. I enjoy doing readings and take my role seriously. I try to do the best I can. I review the readings ahead of time, try to determine the emphasis of the reading, practice my enunciation and pacing in order to avoid being dramatic while also eschewing a monotone delivery, etc. In the early days, when I was just beginning the effort, I wondered about my “worthiness” in proclaiming the readings. Plus, as with any public speaking, there’s always that nervousness / fear / hesitancy factor about being before a crowd, e.g., what will people be thinking of me when I get up there? What if I flub up the reading? If I’m up there doing a scripture reading, will people expect me to be “holier than thou” in order to be worthy enough to do a reading? and so on.
Well, one day in the not too distant past, as I was doing a reading, I glanced at the congregation, and the impression occurred to me that I was a garden hose that stretched out to the end of the church, and the Word that I was proclaiming was flowing like water through this garden hose and out onto the congregation. I was not the water, I was only the vessel through which that water flowed. I was not the life giving/life sustaining nourishment; I was only the vehicle through which that nourishment flowed. It was up to the Holy Spirit to do what He could do with the congregation. I was only the humble vessel.
Pliable, humble, common.
Taking that metaphor a little farther, what about someone who is said to be like a copper pipe: rigid, inflexible, authoritarian? “Ah,” the Holy Spirit might say. “Watch what happens when the pressure or heat is applied. They won’t buckle, they won’t warp, they won’t burst open. They may look a bit tarnished on the outside, but when I really need them to step up, I see this vessel saying, ‘Ha! Heat, pressure, bring it on and then watch me; yeah, just watch me!’ ”
Oh, but another may say, “Gee, you know, I don’t seem to fit in any of those categories. I don’t deal well with conflict or public exposure or other things. When faced with anything, I’m afraid I would most probably tinkle where I stand.” “Ah!” the Holy Spirit might say – “a ‘soaker hose’.” When I need life sustaining nourishment to reach a flower bed, or a garden bed, without any wastage, I could use a soaker hose. A regular garden hose could do the job, but then there’s that attachment thing that has to be added on, and if the wind is blowing or the sun is particularly hot that day, half the water is lost before it can soak in anyhow. I need the slow, gentle trickle of water that will percolate thoroughly over time into the soil, not damaging anything, not being lost to wind or heat, something that I can set it and let it carry the water on my behalf – a perfect situation for a soaker hose.” Kind of reminds me of a lot of moms or wives – not necessarily being in the spotlight, but life would wither without their nurturing existence.
As an aside, I remember reading about a manager at a garden supply shop who had a customer come in complaining that they were sold a “defective” hose. In a curmudgeonly fashion, she said that in using it, the hose was full of pinholes and just leaked all over the place. Rather than arguing with the customer or trying to explain the difference, he simply walked over to the hose section and exchanged her “defective” soaker hose for a regular garden hose. Isn’t that sometimes like life: we might think we’re “defective” when we really are not – we are just doing what we are supposed to do. We may be in a mismatched position / function / venue, but we are not inherently defective.
Regarding the metaphor of a garden hose, I was doing some cleanup in the garage, and I came across an old garden hose. I had been in the military (retired now) and we moved a lot. And so with each move you cart up your belongings and bring them with you, even if you might not use them in the next location. Well, this one garden hose was there – the exterior was faded (too many years in the sun), the skin was also crinkled (like spider veins), it wasn’t as flexible as it used to be, and it was even starting to break open in spots exposing “the innards.” However, it could still carry water. Boy oh boy, when I look in the mirror nowadays, that metaphor image hits too close to home. Fortunately, I’m at the point in life where I’m finally settled (no more moving), and I can also afford a new hose. So I traded in this model for a newer one – some people might do that with spouses; I only do that with garden hoses.