“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” – T.S. Eliot
Neither arrest nor movement. That phrase always troubled me, as I read Eliot for the first time. I was a student in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, in La Mirada, California. How could something not be still and not be moving at the same time? Neither arrest nor movement.
Today, as a Pastor of Worship Arts in the Denver area, Eliot’s words still ring true. Over the years, since my time as a student, I have at times oscillated from arrest to movement and back again. It’s an easy thing to do in life and an even easier thing to do in ministry.
In ministry, we often feel caught between two extremes regarding our work. On the one side of the pendulum is the goal of a fully reliant walk with God. After all, it was Paul who said, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (see Philippians 2:13). On the other side of the pendulum, is a healthy desire to impact the world for Jesus Christ. We work hard and feel like it is our responsibility to offer all we can to the Lord in His service. As James reminds us, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (see James 2:17).
Could it be that Eliot’s riddle has a grasp on Christian living and Christian ministry that finds the sweet spot between arrest and movement?
In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson argues that the Christian life falls somewhere between the Western Paradigm of working increasing amounts of hours in order to get ahead and the Eastern Paradigm of remaining absolutely still in letting go of the world. Peterson argues that, like most things, Jesus won’t that easily be put in a box. Instead, the Christian both takes up his cross (Luke 9:23) and has a burden that is light (Matthew 11:30).
It is there, cross in hand and with an easy yoke, that we find the sweet spot of Christian ministry. The Christian jumps into the river of God and joins Jesus in the work that He is already doing. It is both reliant on the work of God and offering our firstfruits. It is, as Eliot said, neither arrest nor movement. And there, we find the dance.
There is an interesting parallel to the weekly worship services that we have at Greenwood Community Church. There are some weeks in which I enter the services feeling like we have absolutely worked our tails off preparing for what will surely be an awe-inspiring worshipful time. And some of those same weeks, the congregation comes away with a resounding “meh.” There are other weeks in which I have entered the worship services feeling as though we didn’t quite have enough time as a band together to work out all the details, or I wasn’t quite sure that the “right” songs had been selected. And some of those same weeks, I have been greatly encouraged by the ways that God has moved in the hearts and lives of the people of the church.
So what do we learn?
There is a sweet spot of Christian ministry that lies somewhere between arrest and movement. It is not reliant on self; it is reliant on the work of God. But, it offers the best of what is available and it prayerfully asks God to do what only He can do and use what “we gladly bring” to the Newborn King.
It is, as Bob Sorge has written, the pursuit of jumping the very river for which God has created His children. Of the river, Sorge says, “We have been fashioned in such as way that the river of God alone will satisfy the deep longings of the human spirit” (See Sorge’s Following the River). Let us be clear that the river flows from God Himself at His very throne (Revelation 22:1). It does not originate from us, but we are invited by God Himself to take the plunge!
May each of us today, find the sweet spot, not only of Christian ministry, but of our very lives in Christ as we offer ourselves freely to work that Jesus has already begun!