I have several betta fish, each in his own tank. The most recent addition was a bit of an impulse buy. He lives in my kitchen and is good company when I am chopping onions.
Betta are supposed to like having these big brown leaves added to their tank. The leaves improve the quality of the water while giving the fish something to explore. When the leaf is first added to the tank, it tends to float and the fish can be found laying flat on its surface at the very top of the water. As the leaf sinks, I like to arrange it to give the fish privacy.
In my kitchen tank, I realized that my use of a leaf as a privacy screen says more about my ministry than it says about the needs of the fish.
I told myself that the fish was the only one who should decide if he wanted to be on display at any given hour. He had an inborn right to present himself as he alone chose to present himself. His story is not mine to tell, his life is not mine to live.
Sometimes, my husband says things like, “you know its just a fish, right?”
And I realized: No, it is not the fish, it is the philosophy. It is not even about the action, it is the respect for agency.
People have a right to define themselves. Your identity is not mine to define in any way. Your illness or health, your perspectives and opinions are yours to speak or keep silent. Ministry is not the instant power of demanding that congregants tell their stories, it is the loving power of being present when or if a fellow traveler wants to share a portion of the journey.
Hafiz wrote, “Cloak yourself in a thousand ways and still I shall know you, my beloved.”
Every minister knows that where there is a leaf, be it dry and brown or bright and green, there is a beautiful, grace-filled, beating heart somewhere near, and in that, in leaf and fish and water and world, in each and every one of you, is divine worthy of love.