franciscan - September 2002
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2002
Sister Helen Julian CSF, Minister Provincial of the First Order Sisters, European Province, writes:
As a new Minister Provincial, I feel like a novice again in many ways. Much of what I’m doing is for the first time; my first time chairing our Provincial Chapter, first visit to one of our houses as Minister, first participation in the annual conference of the leaders of the Anglican Religious communities in this country. It’s a heady mixture of excitement at new challenges and new possibilities, and fear of the unknown, fear of failing.
This time of the year, early autumn, probably still has resonances of ‘new term’ for many of us, however long it is since we finished our formal education. The mingled anticipation and apprehension at the start of a new school year, with new teachers, new subjects, perhaps a new school altogether, is a feeling which we may still experience as we start a new job, or join a new church, or begin to learn a new skill.
Being a beginner again can be uncomfortable and testing, but it can also be a very fruitful place to be. In Zen Buddhism ‘beginner’s mind’ is highly prized. Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Zen master who spent a number of years teaching in America, wrote:
‘In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion.’
I suspect that this is something of what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of becoming like little children. Young children have a marvellous capacity to see everything as if for the first time. They haven’t been around long enough to become blasé or cynical. Everything is new and exciting.
Francis had something of this quality too. He said about himself ‘The Lord has called me to be a new kind of fool in this world.’ But his newness was not confined to foolishness. He was new in his passionate attachment to poverty, in the simplicity of his preaching, in his deep reverence for all created things as his sisters and brothers. And to the end of his life he saw himself as a beginner. Near the end of his life he exhorted his brothers, ‘Let us begin to serve the Lord, for until now we have accomplished little.’
Perhaps we can use this ‘new term time’ to value the parts of our lives where we feel like beginners, and to value too the beginners we have around us. Whether they are new members of our churches, the children in our families, or those just beginning to learn something at which we are already skilled, we have something to learn from them. They can help us to rediscover our ‘beginner’s mind’, that mind open to learning and full of compassion of which both Jesus and the Zen Buddhists speak.
Pax et bonum – Peace and all good. f
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