Cast Down Your Bucket: A Theology of Staying

Booker T Washington was a former slave who rose to prominence after the Civil War. In 1895 he gave a speech known as the “Atlanta Compromise Speech”. It is considered one of the most important speeches in American history. The speech contained the following story:

“A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: “Water, water. We die of thirst.” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal, “Water, send us water!” went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A third and fourth signal for water was answered: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.”

In the speech he was urging southern black people to work with their white neighbors instead of looking to the north for assistance. He said, “Cast down your bucket where you are. Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded. ”

You may be wondering what this has to do with a Theology of Staying. As an armchair theologian, I have been mulling over the idea that a nomadic very American type of lifestyle might have an adverse effect on spiritual growth.

First, let me share with you a little of my background. My husband and I have lived in Des Moines Iowa for nearly thirteen years. In the same city. In the same house.  To some people this is not startling news—especially in Iowa. But this is the longest I have ever lived in one place my entire life.

While my husband grew up on a family farm, in Ireland, that has been in the family for over a hundred years, this is the longest that he has lived in one place for the (almost) thirty-seven years that we have been married.

Ironic.  Growing up I always swore that I would live in one place in an old house with a white picket fence. Maybe the nursing home will have a white fence.

There are many good things about moving to other places: exposure to a variety of people, cultures and places; learning to adapt to different situations.  There is also the perk of leaving a house before it is time to paint or replace the carpet.

My parents would prepare my brother and me for a move by telling us that it was a chance to start over with a clean slate. (Dad, Mom I am not complaining. It was a good thing to do).  In many ways moving was great. Who doesn’t want, at least once in a while, to have the chance to reinvent herself?  I came to love that clean slate.

But I am beginning to question, now that I seem to be planted where I am for the foreseeable future, if there are negative aspects of moving so much.

I haven’t had to cast down my bucket to find solutions to problems.

Specifically until recently, I haven’t had to deal with relationship problems. This has led to a difficulty in forming lasting attachments to people. There never was a chance to develop loyalties to a place or people. I always knew that I would be moving. We do have old friends, but it is only because they have done all the work.

Recently a misunderstanding occurred with a good friend, and I do not have the experience to deal with it.

The same is true for my husband. If things weren’t going the way he wanted to at work; well he could always find a better job in a better place. There was no incentive to work things out or to assess what the problem was. He has now worked for the same company for over seven years (a record), and he had to learn how to work things out instead of leave.

So why is this a spiritual problem? Because all Christians share a vocation. We are all called to love.  We are all called to love (Agape) others by putting the good of others before our own needs.

In order to love, we have to cultivate compassion. To have compassion means to suffer with. It means understanding that most people are broken. When people treat us badly, there is often something going on in their lives. There is so much pain out there.

When you are a nomad, with no sense of place or loyalty or history, it is easy to write people off. It is easier to avoid doing the hard prayerful work of forgiving others including our enemies. There is a good chance I will never encounter my enemy again.

When you are a nomad, you don’t have to temper your personality. Staying in Iowa, where people are generally even tempered, has been a real eye opener for this assertive New York personality. I am learning to think before I speak. I am learning to take a mental walk around the block to calm down.

But most of all I have learned to give people the benefit of the doubt.

All sin is the failure to love. We are all called to holiness of life, “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5).

This means we are called to purity of heart. Only the pure of heart will see God face to face. One of the things this requires is to see others as icons of  Christ, as icons of divine beauty.  I am beginning to think that this means really getting to know others. This requires hanging around for a while.

So unless God has other plans, I think that I will cast down my bucket where I am.

About Susan Kehoe

I am the wife of a Catholic deacon living in Des Moines Iowa. My husband Larry was ordained in 2006. We have two children and five grandchildren.. Our daughter and her family live in Ireland, and our son and his family live in Franklin Massachusetts.
This entry was posted in Catholic, Christianity, Holiness, Theology, Theology of Staying, Uncategorized, Virtue and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Cast Down Your Bucket: A Theology of Staying

  1. Mary Ryan says:

    Ha! A white picket fence around the nursing home! That was really funny. Well, if you can’t have the American Dream while you own your own home, then plan for afterwards:o


  2. Kathy Thompson says:

    I’ve been reading your blog periodically (I’m a HORRIBLE blog follower, as many of my friends can tell you) and enjoying it. This entry DEEPLY touched me on a personal level. At age 8, I moved from NW Indiana to Florida. Two years alter, I moved to Michigan. Two years later, we moved to NE Indiana, where my parents remain. Two years after we arrived in Fort Wayne, I had to switch schools b/c it was time for high school. Four years later, NEVER having been at a school other than high school for 4 years, I went off to college. I spent the next 4 years back and forth between South Bend for school and Fort Wayne in the summers. After college, it was 18 months in Saint Louis and then back to Fort Wayne for 18 months. After that I took a job in a city you might have heard of called Waukee and lived in a place called West Des Moines. I was CERTAIN was going to live here 3-5 years and then move back to St. Louis, which I loved. However, I met James, his daughter Saffron, and discovered I loved them more than St. Louis. So, here I am. A city girl living in a small-ish city, spending time on the weekends at the Thompson family farms up in Jefferson, IA. I didn’t see it coming.
    Enough about my history which you probably don’t care about. 🙂 The point is, I’ve had so many similar experiences. My roots are here now and legally we can’t move out of the DSM area until Saffy’s 18. I’m ok with this. I’m just adjusting to the same things as you: settling into friends and careers as well as making sure fights, issues, etc. that come up are dealt with so I can maintain healthy family, friend, and professional relationships. It’s tough and I never had to learn it growing up. It’s comforting to know that someone with even more life experience is still struggling with these issues occasionally. It always helps to know you’re not alone.
    Keep up the good blogging, amazing work at CTK, and making your wonderful Deacon available to us in so many ways.


  3. Sophia Origer says:

    I feel like I am finally “casting down my bucket” in my faith and gaining new friends along the way. I am glad your casting your bucket in Iowa!! Really enjoying the blog!!!


  4. Susan Kehoe says:

    You are all so very kind. Thank you for your support.


  5. Pingback: | A Deacon's Wife

  6. Pingback: Sometimes Being a Christian Sucks | A Deacon's Wife

  7. Die Kletterhalle setzt mit ihrer Architektur und ihrer überdurchschnittlichen Ausstattung neue Maßstäbe im Freizeitbereich „Klettern“ und gehört somit wohl zweifellos
    zu den schönsten Kletterhallen in Deutschland.
    Auch ein Ausflug aus Mannheim, Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen, Schifferstadt, Brühl, Hockenheim, Haßloch,
    Neustadt oder Oftersheim für eine Kindergeburtstagsfeier im SEA LIFE bietet sich an. Kosten bei 6
    bis 9 Kindern: 6 Kinder für 115 € / jedes weitere Kind 8 € / jeder weitere Erwachsene 15 € Kosten bei 10 bis 14 Kindern: 169 € pauschal (Kostenaufwand für
    zweiten Trainer) Kosten ab dem 15 Kind: jedes weitere Kind 8 € / jeder weitere
    Erwachsene 15 € Wenn der Outdoor-Hochseilgarten und Flying-Fox zugebucht werden soll,
    verlängert sich der Kindergeburtstag um eine halbe
    Stunde auf 3,5 Stunden gesamt.


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