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Reform Magazine | August 5, 2021

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Chapter & verse: Matthew 11:29

Chapter & verse: Matthew 11:29

John Swinton commends doing small things with great love

Mother Theresa once observed: ‘In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.’ Doing small things with great love is to allow our theology – our knowledge of God – to drop down from our heads to our hearts.

In the midst of a highly technical culture, within which we tend to prioritise intellect over friendship, independence over community and power over weakness, the suggestion that our calling is to small things can seem rather odd. And yet, when we think about it, it is in the small things that we encounter our most meaningful moments.

A few years ago, I was in Atlanta attending the Summer Institute for Disability Theology. The Institute meets every year in a different US city. It involves a broad range of participants: people with disabilities, carers and supporters, theologians, philosophers, professionals and other interested parties. We come together to make new friendships and to learn together. One afternoon, I was walking along the corridor of the conference hall when a woman passed me in a wheelchair. She called me over. ‘I owe you something,’ she said. ‘What’s that?’ I said. ‘Money, I hope!’ She began to cry. I stood with her. Eventually, she said: ‘Three years ago, at the conference in Chicago, I was feeling like killing myself. Indeed, I was on my way to do it when I met you. You smiled at me. I decided not to.’ There is a tremendous power in small gestures. A smile can save a life; a look can touch a soul…

John Swinton is Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at King’s College, University of Aberdeen

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This is an extract from an article published in the March 2021 edition of Reform

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