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What is “Service?”

The question most asked of us as ministers has been and will continue to be, “How are you serving?” or, “Who are you serving?”

After all, we are told that to minister is to be in service to humankind, and that is so true. But, what is service? Is it something concrete that we can put our finger on, or is it something more elusive?

Service is doing God/dess’s work on this earthly plane.

As Ram Dass and Paul Gorman wrote in, How Can I Help?

       Right where we are, in whatever we’re already doing, the opportunity to be of service is almost always present…All we have to do is ask, “How Can I Help?” with an open heart, and then really listen.

        It is vital to remember that, at the moment of creation, we became Shufeit Elohim… partners with God/Goddess/All That Is. We are God’s hands, eyes, mouths, legs and heart here on earth. God can do nothing in this physical realm without our help.

Humankind and all living things began as a community, and somewhere along the way, we forgot. We were given tasks to perform based on the knowledge that we are inner and inter-connected to all other living beings, but somehow, over millennia, we forgot. At least, in our minds we forgot. But, our hearts remember.

What our hearts remember is that we were given loving stewardship of all of creation, and our job is to take care of, to love, and to comfort all that God created. Because we forgot, pain, disease, sadness, anger, separation, duality and chaos came into existence.

It is our job, as is said in Judaism, to bring about Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. The more that we stay open to that which needs to be healed, the more we can come from a place of compassion and a desire to help. Whether we just listen or do something, great or small, it is our natural state of being to be of service to every living thing on this planet and this planet, herself.

The Dalai Lama says:

       Religious people must do more that offer prayers if the world is to become a better place to live.

       Whenever we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us develop inner happiness and peace.

When we do not know someone or do not feel connected to an individual or group, we tend to overlook their needs. Yet, the development of the human society requires that people help each other.

When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us to develop inner happiness and peace.

 Service is listening; listening to the world without, and listening to that small still voice within.

In the twelve months from September 11, 2001 to September 11, 2002, there were many opportunities to be in service…There have been those who served by listening to families deep in grief at the thought of loved ones torn from this life. These families were struggling to make some sense of an unimaginable tragedy and found the greatest help in those who would sit and listen as they poured out their hearts. In the days and weeks following the catastrophe, it was the priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers to whom theses families turned and with whom they were able to achieve some measure of solace. The largest single “denomination” of clergy in active helping roles during this time was the Interfaith graduates, who simply stepped forward in the moment, and who were present to listen and serve.

Some brought water, soda, coffee and food to the rescue and recovery workers and sat with them as they ate, and listened. Others gathered at the different respite area to be with workers and families who desperately needed spiritual care before they could allow themselves to rest, and listened. And, all the chaplains were there to pray for the soul of each recovery and for the closure and comfort each discovery would bring to a family.

There were those who staffed the family assistance centers, and listened, supporting families as they began the process of reordering their lives. Some accompanied families to view the site and, some stepped in and did the seemingly impossible, who listened to what was needed, and single handedly created things that were needed, like a center that found temporary housing for all the rescue workers who came to New York and had nowhere to sleep. All of these things, and more were done because the Interfaith Ministers were trained to listen and then do what was necessary.

Service demands an active role. Service is not something to think about, but something to do.

Many of our students and graduates are actors, singers, dancers, and comedians who bring relief, and raise awareness and money to help care and heal those in pain or need.

Service is learning

This is a special gift of and for Interfaith Ministers. We can share simply by learning as much as we can about the lives, beliefs, and cultures of people perceived as “the others.”

Ignorance always produces fear. Knowledge allows for compassion and appreciation. As Interfaith Seminarians, we make it a point…a vocation of this kind of learning which fosters a deeper connection to the whole human family.

Service is compassion.

For all of us with a sense of compassion, it is a natural instinct to help…to alleviate the suffering of someone else. For those who choose to help, there is a deep awareness that our lives, our happiness, our inner peace, our very well being, are inextricably connected to the same things in others.

And, no act of compassion is too small.

There is an old story that tells of a man walking along a beach after a storm. Hundreds and hundreds of starfish had been washed ashore during the storm and stranded on the sand. They were certain to die before the next high tide could carry them back out to sea. The man thought how tragic it was that all these starfish were going to die, and he kept on walking. As he rounded a bend, he saw another man on the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water.

The first man said to the second, “There are hundreds, maybe thousands of starfish here. You can’t possible save them all. Don’t you realize that what you’re doing doesn’t make any difference?”

The second man didn’t reply. He simply picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea. “Made a difference to that one,” he said.

The lesson is simple.

 We can only do one thing at a time. We can only perform one act of service at a time. And, each act of service is a huge gift to the universe, no matter that the act itself seems small.

Compassionately listening to just one person in crisis and pain is as great an act of compassion and service as anyone can do.

It was Mother Teresa who taught:

We cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

Kindness, compassion, learning, caring and doing…

These are the components of service.

 ©Rabbi Roger Ross, September 11, 2002, revised December 13, 2011

Use With Permission – All Rights Reserved


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