A Place in the Commons

By Tripp Hudgins 1-08-2014
Ralf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock
Can we build something new every day? Ralf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock

Abba Moses asked abba Sylvanus, “Can a person lay a new foundation every day?” The old man said, “If they work hard, they can lay a new foundation at every moment.”

What then of skill? Virtuosity?

(I’m thinking a lot about skill, virtuosity, and the problems it presents. What good is it?)

I often wonder what it would be like to take pride in something rather than simply being prideful. It’s a trick, to say the least, to sort out the difference. To recognize skill, to possess the intention to do something well for the sake of doing something well treads that line. I wonder about the virtue of being good at something — of recognizing one’s skill and then situating that skill in some way that serves not one’s own agenda, one’s own ego, but that benefits the common good.

How do we know our own place in the commons? Is this even possible?

Nihilism creeps in around the edges. Compassion beckons to us. Service, enjoyment, entertainment, spiritual, and physical slavery, all of these concepts and many more plague me. In the ambiguity of the spiritual marketplace, it can be difficult to discern what is the common good and what is simply the marketplace.

And cannot the marketplace be good?

Good or ill, I cannot say with certainty. “Ambiguous” is the word tossed around as if it solved the problem. The truth is that the marketplace is problematic. And, at present, we cannot escape it. A concept embodied by people whose collective lives are also ethically “ambiguous.”

So, what then of this word from the desert monks? Hard work. New foundations. New understandings. Starting over in every moment. Tear it down and start over with every breath. Is the master simply the perennial novice? We are beginning again and again and again.

So, where is the rest? There is no rest in a sense. Yet, we are called to rest in God. We’re supposed to let God build the foundation or something like that. Perhaps? I cannot say.

Someone will quote scripture at me here. Matthew 6, perhaps, or some Pauline screed? That’s fine. Offer the words. I still cannot get there from here.

So often, we treat scripture like a promise (not a bad impulse, I think) or a map (a terrifying notion), a set of instructions when it’s simply biography, a series of stories and testimonies of the inexplicable but no less real to many.

The Christian scriptures don’t serve as an instructional guide. They are a collection of spiritual biographies from which we may glean something to help make sense of our own seeking and striving. It is a book written by and for community discernment. It is true, but it is not accurate.

It shows us the light, but it is itself not the light.

So, quote scripture at me. That’s helpful, I guess.

I’m sitting here wondering what to make of this life I’ve been given.

I’m tearing down and building up all the time. I’m distrustful of what I build and what I’ve been gifted. So, it comes down by one means or another.

It all comes down. With each breath, I tear down. With each breath, I build up.

With each breath.

Am I supposed to be good at this?

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Photo: Ralf Maassen (DTEurope)/Shutterstock


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