I am sitting cross-legged in a green paradise, sun filtering through the trees above me, ants scurrying restlessly beneath me. I shift uncomfortably, not accustomed to the practice of just sitting. Just being. I glance around, wondering if any of the other students will happen by, but the only thing to greet me are fresh summer leaves, dancing in the warm breeze on this lazy day. I am not here of my own volition. I am here on assignment. I am here to seek a vision.
This field school, this immersion in the culture of Ontario before it was given that name, not only has introduced us to the science of discovering past culture, but it has also introduced us to the art of living past culture. We have made milkweed pod edible by boiling it in three waters, we have flint-knapped with Onandaga chert, we have dug Cattail root, we have made fire. We have yet to smoke the Peace Pipe in a moonlit ceremony, and we have yet to take part in the fireside ritual of entering the Jesuit-inspired Order of the Red Bandana. For now, we have been sent on a Vision Quest. Since we are all high school students, we are not allowed the advantage of natural pharmaceuticals. Yet our quest remains the same: to seek some insight, allowing nature to speak to us some secret we would not have known unless we searched for it. We were told to clear our minds, to let something else speak to us. I know better than that, and in spite of the fact that I did not object at the time, I did resolve to make this a time of conversation with my Father God. And so I sit, watching His creation, but at a loss for words with which to converse.
A small stream babbles a few feet away, and the shrill squawks of crows and the sing-song melodies of prettier birds punctuate the relative quiet. Tiny black ants silently scurry around me and under me. They make no noise, but the ground moves with their countless fragile bodies. Everything is quiet, and yet alive and active. And then, as if I have drifted off into some surreal form of consciousness, the trees, the birds, and the stream all seem to grow, slowly but steadily, and their presence begins to overtake my senses. I feel small, and as I watch the ants in their rat race, I feel even smaller. I feel somehow smaller than the ants. Their activity seems meaningless, but it captivates me, mesmerizes me with it’s constancy. I start to wonder what they are thinking. Are they thinking? Do they know why they have begun this crazy pace, and are they satisfied with living their entire lives scurrying endlessly like so many mindless drones? It is as if I begin to fade, to slowly disappear. Or to shrink perhaps. I am on their level. I see them eye-to-eye, but they do not see me. What do they see? Their own hunger, the hunger of their queen. Their insatiable need to build, to carve their dwellings out of the warm, brown dirt that I have now become a part of.
But suddenly I am looking down at them once more. I sigh, wondering when I will gain this insight our instructors have required us to seek. And I stand, brushing the debris off of me, not seeing what I should have.
It is a full year later. I am working at Muskoka Bible Center for the summer, and this is the summer when my faith becomes my own. Like an obedient prodigal, it is not until I am on my own, in an atmosphere of intense spirituality and of intense temptation, that I am forced to examine what I believe. The motto for us as staff is John 3:30 — He must increase, but I must decrease. It is so simple, and yet so difficult to comprehend and implement. In this summer of long, hard hours for very little pay, of intense study of God’s Word, of spiritual accountability and of glimpses into the natural as well as the supernatural, I begin to see how I must decrease. I begin to gain the insight that I missed the previous summer.
We are those ants. We are the drones carrying on the busy-work of our queen, The World. We are driven by our hunger for more food, more clothing, a bigger house, a better car or two. Or we are swept up in the busyness of the church. And our Creator who sat above us, left the crowning splendor of His creation, and made Himself tiny and insignificant. He made Himself one of us. He walked this dirt, He stood eye-to-eye with us, but we did not even see Him. As we continued on the path of our calculated insanity, He stood still. He lowered Himself, so that we could be lifted up with Him.
And this is when I begin to understand the simplicity of it all. My response to his decresance, should be my own. I must decrease. He must increase. In every thing I do, in every word I speak, in every interaction, motive and goal, He must increase.
Those words stay with me like a phylactery, and every toilet I scrub, every diaper I change, every meal I serve, every nose I wipe, becomes an offering to my Creator. Because I am not doing this to fill empty bellies, to satisfy my supervisor, or even to keep a child happy. I am doing this for the God of my Salvation, to serve Him, and to draw others to an intimate knowledge of Him.
As I move on, as I encounter other experiences, through becoming a mother myself, I need to continue to remind myself of the reason I am doing these things. I continue to serve others, perhaps in the most self-depracating way our culture knows — by choosing to be a mother. But in all of that, am I still decreasing? Am I lowering myself while raising Him up? Am I making Him the purpose and the goal?
Because the words of John the Baptist are just as true today as when he first spoke them:
He MUST increase,
but i must decrease.
“DECRESANCE is a social behavior or trend in which individuals live simpler lives to escape from the rat race of obsessive materialism” (Issac Enciso). God calls us to a higher purpose than to simply escape “obsessive materialism”. He calls us to love Him as He has loved us by responding to the sacrifice of His Son, and to live out our love for Him in obedience to Him in every aspect of our lives.