Do all the good that you can,
in all the ways that you can,
to all the souls that you can,
in every place you can,
for all the people you can,
as all the times you can,
with all the zeal you can,
as long as ever you can.
~ John Wesley
On Tuesdays I’ll be writing about Spiritual Words. Some quotes and phrases sound timeless. Some have a way of always ringing true. They are words that, written long ago speak to this particular moment and time.
Words unite us and untie us. They can hold us up and can bring us to our knees. They help us dream and can put us to sleep. Some can bring us to new understandings, some to despair. Words matter. Spiritual words for me that have deep roots. The quote above was probably condensed from sermons John Wesley gave in the 1790’s. Like the image of opening a feather pillow on a windy day, his words have floated on people’s hearts and minds down through time.
It’s almost as though I could hear him saying them on a walk around the block, or from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I wonder what the occasion was for him to speak them aloud? Had he seen a child be mistreated on the street as he was walking to a gathering? And when my great grandfather first heard them, what about these words rang true? Had he seen a man turned away when asking for a cup of water or something to eat? What about my grandmother when she heard them, had she seen someone walking who had no shoes? And what about my father, when he joined the Methodist Church because he’d asked Mom to marry him? Had he seen a bully taunting an old man? And then I wonder if our boys will ever think about these words when they see someone or something that calls them to be better, kinder, more loving?
These Spiritual Words have stood the test of time. They call us into the moment, call us to be participants in the world and not merely watching from the audience. They give us our focus and our purpose in fifty words. [Editorial comment: When I think about all the ways we waste words today, lobbing insults at one another and injuring relationships…these fifty words of something-better sound like a gift.]
Wesley doesn’t call us to `wait and see’ or to `listen out for’ or even to `teach the next generation that they might…’ Instead he calls us, you and me to action. We are to do. “Do all the good…” Here we are given a road map for our days. Here we are given a to-do list that speaks to the best of who we are called to be.