'Take my yoke upon you'– living with attentiveness, expectancy and care for others
"Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; ... and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Discipleship is a loaded word. It depends on our experience, and especially how others around us have used or abused it. If there is a way of understanding this from the rich Christian tradition, then naturally, we begin with the way Jesus saw it. Being a ‘disciple’ is being a learner, it has to do with a state of being, of looking and listening, of being attentive. And for this we are never too old, or too young. Being a learner is something more than turning up once a week to a class,just taking notes, or jotting down ideas. It is certainly not about loading ourselves up with guilt about what we are doing or not doing! This is anything but ‘rest for your souls.’
If being attentive is at the heart of ‘discipleship’ then there is also a sense of expectation, there are things we will not want to miss. Rowan Williams describes this sense of attentiveness using the image of birdwatching. ‘you sit very still because something is liable to burst into view and sometimes of course it means a long day sitting in the rain with nothing very much happening’! But often, because you are there, living with a kind of expectancy, you see it, or hear it: the beauty of the Fairy Wren, or the warble of the Magpie or the nuisance of the Noisy Minors or the humour of the Kookaburra!
There were parallels in the ancient world with Jesus practice of ‘making disciples.’ The ancients knew that learning is a matter of gaining life wisdom; it is about being ‘enculturated’ so that we can develop dispositions, habits, or outlooks or a temperament that lines up with the way of a Great Teacher.
So it is that at the beginning of John’s Gospel, two disciples ask Jesus. ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ Jesus says, ‘Come and see’ (1.38-39).
Jesus command to ‘learn from me’ (v.29) is an invitation to be (stay) with Jesus.
However, and importantly, to be attentive to the Spirit of Jesus, is to live with the expectancy that the Spirit (the dove!) will turn up and hover in the places and among the people in your life and work and play. Being a disciple places us at the centre where Jesus stays: ‘being in the company of the people whose company Jesus seeks.’ (Rowan Williams) For us this means staying with Jesus in the events and people around us, but also being attentive to the Spirit’s prompts to see others!
While sometimes Jesus needed to withdraw to a quiet place, mostly he chose to be amongst a strange company that included folks outside the normal group: social outcasts, high ranking extortionists, and social elites. Some people from all these groups became his disciples; they were ‘born again’ because they ‘stayed’ with Jesus; and over time they gained wisdom, developed dispositions, and habits that mirrored the heart of Jesus, the reign of God in our midst.
The ‘easy yoke’ of discipleship always calls us to attentiveness and expectancy. It also invites imagination and creativity. This is no less the case in our times, when many are isolated or needing emotional support. Jesus invites us to go where he is, invites us to contact others, to move beyond our well-worn paths of self-comfort or introversion. One man told me some time ago: ‘You know I have not had any of the men call me. And yet we know each other quite well.’ The ‘rest for your souls’ – that grace-gift from Jesus - is usually discovered through attentiveness and expectancy, including the giving and receiving of care from others in the body of Christ.
A song to help us be attentive:
Taize: Nada te turbe (Let nothing disturb you)
Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
he who has God
God alone suffices.
but God stays,
patience reaches it all.
(The Taizé Community is an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. The community composed of more than one hundred brothers, from Catholic and Protestant traditions, who originate from about thirty countries across the world.)