Virtue of the Week: Service


Put on a Coat or Build a Fire? (This first story should have extra impact for those of us in Oregon who are sitting in sub-20’s weather right now.)

When we are thinking about the virtue of service we need to remember that “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

A revered wise man once journeyed to visit a younger wise man who was known for his spiritual devotion. The older wise man was very much impressed with the young man’s total immersion in prayer and study, and asked the secret of his unwavering piety. The young wise man replied that by concentrating deeply and exclusively on his studies; he was able to ignore any outside influences that might distract him. The older wise man had noticed that many of the nearby villagers from the young wise man’s town were involved in activities that were quite contrary to living a life of virtue. This disturbed the older wise man so he said to the young wise man, “When it is very cold, there are two ways to warm yourself. One is by putting on a fur coat; the other is by lighting a fire. The difference is that the fur coat warms only the person wearing it, while the fire warms anyone who comes near.” The point being that the young wise man should be spending more time teaching and serving the people of his village than in self-indulgent prayer.

Our gifts and blessings are not intended for our use alone, they’re intended to benefit all people – from those in our immediate families to those in larger community. Each of us has been given distinct talents and abilities, and, it’s our duty to share them with others through service. A skill you or I take for granted might fill an indispensable need for someone else, and have a far greater impact than anyone could imagine. A kind word, a caring gesture, for example, might make someone’s day, or encourage an addict to enter rehabilitation, or even convince someone not to commit suicide!

Serving others means acknowledging that you are more than an individual concerned about yourself alone; that you are part of a larger community, and therefore responsible for your neighbor.

Serving others means dispelling the cold by building a fire that warms others as well, instead of just putting on a coat that warms only you.

The Aqueduct (For all you retired folks out there who have resigned their life to self-serving golf, fishing, tinkering, etc. What ages of service could not destroy, idleness disintegrated!)

Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, tells about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, in his native Spain. It was built in 109 A.D. For eighteen hundred years, it carried cool water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow. Then came another generation, a recent one, who said, “This aqueduct is so great a marvel that it ought to be preserved for our children, as a museum piece. We shall relieve it of its centuries-long labor.” They did; they laid modern iron pipes. They gave the ancient bricks and mortar a reverent rest. And the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall. What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.

Start at Home ( Do we serve for vane glory, or are we willing to get our hands dirty in the service of others? True service requires that you die a little unto yourself every time you serve.)

We talk about social service, service to the people, service to humanity, service for others who are far away, helping to bring peace to the world, but often we forget that it is the very people around us that we must live for first of all. If you cannot serve your wife or husband or child or parent, how are you going to serve society? If you cannot make your own child happy, how do you expect to be able to make anyone else happy? If all our friends in the peace movement or of service communities of any kind do not love and help one another, whom can we love and help? Are we working for other humans, or are we just working for vane glory that society bestows on people for performing “community service”?

Have a great week!