The Servant & The Saint
“Don’t refer to people as servants”, someone said to me the other day. When I asked why he added “They don’t like it”. Words mean what we want them to. Some people use expletives of a particularly vulgar and, to my way of thinking, insensitive nature with monotonous regularity. Others turn perfectly ordinary, inoffensive words into bad language just by the emphasis they give them. You can ask someone to ‘shut the door’ in multiple ways – offensively, politely, rudely, charmingly, casually, commandingly, even brutally. A smile can mean gratitude, hate, triumph or submission; laughter is often joy, derision, fun, despised. Language is far more complex than we expect it to be. Silence can be yet more difficult to understand.
A man I know had a vocation to become a priest. He was a perfectly normal human being with wonderfully good aspects of his nature and depressingly poor sides to his personality. He was introspectively selfish at times, overwhelmingly unselfish at others. Over a period of about ten years he switched between the two very different and apparently opposing sides of his nature. The changes, sometimes made to and fro in quite rapid succession, were visible for all to see. Some people who had loved him came to hate him for his Jekell and Hyde personality. Others who had been suspicious of his self-indulgent behaviour and who had shunned him to start with recognised a soul at war with itself. I don’t think anyone yet knows his real beliefs. Not even him.
Such a person can be many things; boring is not one of them. To discover the drivers that make him who he is, to learn the motivations that compel his volte-face nature, is to explore a cavern far more penetrating than the deepest under-ocean cave and to ascend a mountain higher than the clouds above Everest. To study the breaks and the breakdowns of such a person is to seek a candle to light the path we all tread. To come to terms with such diversity within one individual is to learn the meaning of the word soul, and to see the restrictions of the concept of heart. To dismiss such a character as unhinged is to ignore a learning possibility of great value. To be mesmerised by the glitter of change is to dismiss the energy of purpose.
Is an analysis of such a person a self-indulgence of introspection or a way of parading our own less erratic natures? Possibly. I doubt it is often conceived on those planes. I think it is normally followed for the purpose of learning who we are and why we are here. If that is so, we are doing what every baby does as soon as s/he is born and what all dying people are doing before they finally close their eyes. A great life is a search; the discovery, something yet to learn.
On the way we will absorb some things that are worth finding out. They will be about others – for what we learn about others we can learn about ourselves.
The man I know and who I refer to in this article is certainly a paradox. Perhaps he is also a Servant and a Saint.
That’s how we may think of him, anyway.
We would be fascinated to hear if you have come across any Servant/Saints. You could tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
15 February 2023