One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, ‘You have not understood it.’ Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, ‘How would you explain this saying?’ and he replied, ‘I do not know.’ Then Abba Anthony ‘Indeed Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: “I do not know.”
“I do not know.” These are the four most difficult words to say in our society. Admitting these words has been difficult for people since the beginning.. We are created with a “must know” nature. All men run from mystery, and yet God is a mystery. He calls us to believe what we have not seen. We are led to serve without knowing the results of our service. Be attentive to the voice of the Spirit that calls us to action, even to the things that remain mystery to us.
A journalist once asked Carl Sandburg, “What is the ugliest word in the English language?” After a few minutes Sandburg replied, “Exclusive.” The ugliness of exclusive depends upon whether we are among the included or the excluded. We pride ourselves on being members of exclusive clubs, living in exclusive neighborhoods, dining at exclusive restaurants, vacationing at exclusive resorts, belonging to exclusive churches. Being an insider carries with it a sense of pride and security. Most of us, however, have been excluded often enough to agree that exclusive is an ugly word. When we are among the marginalized, the rejected, the pushed-aside, or the left-out it hurts!
Our question is simple. Who is excluded from the love of God? The answer is simple – no one. That demands the next question. Who is excluded from the church? Of course, the right answer is no one, but we know better. Unfortunately, no one is not the right answer. People are excluded from the church because of tradition, sexuality, financial status, race, “not fitting” and a whole host of other reasons. Let us pray and do all that is in our power to make sure our church is not exclusive.
Compassion is said to be the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me, until there is peace and joy finally for you, too.
Feeling with the “other” is an elusive, essential quality of the Christian journey. There can be no true oneness of the body of Christ until we all feel the hurts of the community. We must not only feel them, but somehow truly put ourselves in the shoes of others, even those others who are radically different than we. That is when we truly become the compassionate community that we are called to be.
True community identification and compassion can only come through prayer. It is a type of prayer that empties us and allows God to fill the void. As we ask God to fill our void we are empowered, in a limited way, to see others as God sees them. It is a dying to self and a rising to the light of God that brings us into the presence of God.
Think on compassion today.
“A brother said to Abba Anthony,’Pray for me.’The old man said to him, ‘I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.’“
——sayings of the Desert Fathers
The wise father tells us that everything starts with our own efforts. It is a good and noble thing to ask for the prayers of others, but we should never neglect to do our best and to stay in constant communication with God. When we practice striving to do our best and daily conversations with God we can accomplish much. In this formula we can find wholeness and peace.
In a very crowded hospital waiting one rather self-important individual was getting impatient. Unwilling to wait any longer, he barged in and demanded to be seen by the doctor. “Don’t you know who I am?” Shouted the man. The secretary calmly pressed the button on the microphone of her loudspeaker system and asked the waiting patients. “I have a gentleman here who doesn’t know who he is. Can someone please assist him in finding out? Thank you.
That story may have a little touch of humor to it, but it serves as an example of the type of person we strive not to be. All to often in our busy, pushy, self-important we find ourselves feeling the way in the role of the man in the story. We are taught to be so productive and self-center that we really believe that if people just knew who we were they would listen to everything we say.
Jesus gives us a a completely different perspective. He says,”the first will be last… to turn the other cheek..to carry the burden for the second mile”do we strive to follow His teachings? Do we think it is even possible?
Take some time to ponder those questions.
“The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, ‘You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.”
The true test of any person comes when we face criticism. It can sometimes be just or unjust. It can be true or false. In the times of praise it is very easy to be gracious and loving . When the tables are turn, we see how much we can really turn the other cheek. The challenge is to be a person who has the inner trust in God that allows us to be a 24/7 Christian. None of us are there yet, but the journey continues.
” He said also, ‘just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.”
Abba Anthony—-Sayings of the Desert Fathers
I would venture to say that very few of us that will read this are monks. Nevertheless, the challenge is very clear. Christians who spend the bulk of their time seeking pleasure from material things will find themselves in spiritual distress. Take the lesson from the wisdom of the fathers,and spend some time each day in the things of God.