If you glanced at the title of this, it might make very little sense. Many folks would know the word, agency, but have no idea what it actually means. We would know the word, agent, and assume they are related---which they are. Agency means the capacity to do something---to get something done. It requires some power to pull off the task.
The idea for this inspirational message came when I read a recent editorial by David Brooks. While I do not always agree with Brooks, I find him incredibly thoughtful and articulate. He writes about philosophical and spiritual things and writes for an audience that would not always be eager to read such things. He is an astute observer of human nature and our communities. The title of the recent editorial was “The Agency Moment.” I began reading that column with interest and with no guess what he was going to do.
He began by talking about the nineteenth century writer, George Eliot. Even though it is a masculine name, George Eliot was a female. Brooks calls her needy! In a bold letter she wrote to the philosopher, Herbert Spenser, she asked in effect to become his woman. He rebuffed this offer. Eliot could have emotionally withered and died. She did not. Brooks’ take on this epic moment is fascinating. He said this was her “agency moment.” He gives detail to this when he says it is “the moment when she stopped being blown about by her voids and weaknesses and began to live according to her own inner criteria, gradually developing a passionate and steady capacity to initiate action and drive her own life.”
This sentence grabbed me. I resonated with the idea of an agency moment---that time we know that we can initiate action and drive our own lives. In effect, we become agents of our own lives. Brooks uses this idea to reflect on the huge number of people who seem to have no agency moments. They are still flailed about by all sorts of circumstances. They are not their own persons in any sense of that word. These are the people driven by other people and by external situations. They have no sense of control or destiny. Often they are hapless and helpless. This is truly tragic and not something God possibly wants for any of God’s children.
It is easy to think about my own life. I have been lucky. I have had agency moments. I have had people in my life who have helped me discover and develop my own sense of agency. While it would be ludicrous to claim we control our lives, I do control many elements of life. In addition to the people in my life who have given me so much, I also have a view of God as One who wishes every one of us would discover and develop our agency. I am sure God wants us to be agents of love and peacemakers in this world. The ministries God has given us are really nothing more than the various agencies of the Spirit God wants us to enact.
I have been lucky. Others have not been lucky or fortunate. As Brooks observes, “So many people are struggling for agency. They are searching for the solid criteria that will help them make their own judgments. They are hoping to light an inner fire that will fuel relentless action in the same direction.” I love that last sentence. Agency comes when an inner fire is lite. I have had---and still do have---that inner fire. It is a personal fire that is part of the larger, cosmic fire that is God’s love and care.
When you have that fire, then you have a fire that fuels relentless action towards the things you and God care about the most. It seems simple: no fire, no fuel, no action.
The fire comes when we feel connected to ourselves. And it comes when we feel a connection to God---to God’s Spirit. And the fire can come from being with others who know something about this fire.
The fire feels like motivation. It brings within our heart a desire to be who it is that God most wants us to be. Of course, we can selfishly derail this noble desire and use our fire for the selfish ends. This is what is known as sin. The fire that fuels us to act in the world is the fire of ministry. It often looks like love in action. Frequently its’ aim is justice---justice for all.
Those of us lucky enough to know something about this have a big responsibility to use our agency in good and laudable ways. We bear a responsibility to help out those who have not yet discovered their own fire---especially the young and the lost, older ones in our midst. I can remember when I did not have it and wondered whether I would ever get it.
I like to use an analogy. I see myself as a torch. I have the agency to be and to do almost anything I want. I choose to use myself---myself as a torch---to touch others. I can use my fire to kindle their torches---light their fires. But I can take no credit. It is not my fire. It is the fire of the Spirit. I merely am an agent of the Spirit with work to do.