An Egyptian brother came to Abba Zeno in Syria, and accused himself to the old man about his temptations. Fill with admiration, Zeno said, ‘The Egyptians hide the virtues they possess and ceaselessly accuse themselves of faults they do not have, while the Syrians and Greeks pretend to have virtues they do not have, and hide the faults of which they are guilty.’
——-sayings of the Desert
One the hardest tasks of the Christ walk is the recognition of our own faults and failures. We find ourselves so wrapped up in our journeys that we often see the sins of others and overlook our own. The humble Egyptian, on the other hand, looked directly into his own soul and made confession. Jesus states in scripture, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This pattern of self-denial, as exhibited by the Egyptian, is the model for all Christians.
Interestingly enough Abba Zeno gives us another little morsel of truth here as well. Our inability to perceive the reality of our circumstances and the hiding of virtues is played in contrast to the overstatement of our place in life. In short, the Abba saw the “greener grass” in Egypt while giving a blanket condemnation to his home region. We must never forget that God has given all that we need, and it is our calling to live into the opportunities that surround us.
“It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of and protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole human race and the world with it. By my monastic life and vows I am saying NO to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socioeconomic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace.”
These words uttered by the mystic monk, Thomas Merton, in the mire of the Cold War and Vietnam are still a clarion wake up call to all thoughtful Christians. We are surrounded by injustice and inequality, but in that muddle Christ-followers struggle to find their souls. Perhaps we should hear the words of Jesus when He says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'(NIV) The Lord calls us to a ministry of caring about the left out and marginalized of our world because they are ALL His creation. We are so easily led astray into our own world of self absorption and ego that we forget that the ethos of the Christian is to care about others. All acts of injustice are offenses to God.
I am not naive enough to supposed that we can solve all the problems of the world, but I would propose that we can begin with a fresh attitude in ourselves. This begins with prayer, meditation, soul searching, and caring when we see or hear things that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. We are compelled to find our spiritual centers and allow the Spirit of our God to guide us in our daily walk.
- Thomas Merton on Love (cmaynus.wordpress.com)
There are two birds that fly over our nation’s deserts: One is the hummingbird and the other is the vulture. The vultures find the rotting meat of the desert, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.
In life, there are two birds. The one bird looks for foolishness and stupidity, the other looks for wisdom. The vultures seek to fill themselves with the rotting flesh of drunkenness and debauchery, the hummingbird sobriety, freshness, and the Spirit. In the desert of this world you have your scavengers who are angry and ungrateful, but you also have those who hum a grateful hymn of thanksgiving. The irony is that you find what you are looking for.
I’m sure that all of us want to find what is wonderful and fresh. We want to be in the company of people and things that ad value to our lives. Unfortunately we sometimes seek out the wrong things. We find ourselves drawn to things and people that diminish us rather than build us. Remember, it all there for us to find.
There is a powerful scene in the movie, The Godfather, Part III. Perhaps some of you remember when the Godfather, Don Corleone, is forced to visit the distinguished Cardinal Lamberto to tell him the bad news that a legitimate business deal involving the Vatican Bank has gone bad. The bank is run by the Archbishop and a coalition of Catholic businessmen. The Cardinal listens to the Godfather; then the Cardinal says something quite profound. He picks up a stone and says, “Look at this stone. It has been lying in the water for a very long time. The water has not penetrated it.” Then he smashes the stone. “Look,” he says peering at the smashed insides of the stone, “perfectly dry. The same thing,” the Cardinal continues, “has happened to men in Europe. They have been surrounded by Christianity for centuries, but Christ does not live in their hearts.”
C. S. Lewis
In The Problem of Pain, published in 1940, Lewis offered the reader this overly humble confession: “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess for I will tell you; I am a great coward.” In a letter to his brother Warnie, written while working on the book, he claimed: “If you are writing a book about pain and then you get some actual pain […] it does not either, as the cynic would expect, blow the doctrine to bits, nor, as a Christian would hope, turn into practice, but remains quite unconnected and irrelevant, just as any other bit of actual life does when you are reading or writing.” Neither the confession nor the claim stood the test of time. In 1961, Lewis wrote about pain again, this time about his own. In A Grief Observed he inadvertently satisfied the alleged curiosity of his readers. But he did not come across as a coward; nor did his firm grasp of “a theory of suffering” prove altogether irrelevant. True, his faith in God was challenged; he uttered blasphemies; he doubted God’s existence; worst of all, he went through the very objections to God’s goodness which he had refuted in The Problem of Pain: they all seemed valid to a disabled mind, under the sway of unbearable pain. But then, reason returned: “Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?”
When feeling disguises itself as thought, all nonsense is possible. Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain. Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a preamble to the Mystery of the Cross. Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a dive into the Mystery.
I came across this very good prayer and I thought you might like it. The thoughts in this prayer call us to unity and faith.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
The Prayer of St John Chrysostom from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England
Laughter is the best medicine. I know you have heard that statement before. There is a true story to back this up.
Laughter’s healing benefits have become synonymous with Norman Cousins, the man who laughed himself to wellness. Norman Cousins was the editor of Saturday Review for over 30 years and was the author of a number of books including Anatomy of an Illness.
In 1964, he returned home from a meeting in Moscow, Russia, experiencing severe joint pain and fever. He was diagnosed with Anklyosing Spondylitis, a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. He was told that most likely the cause was from his exposure to heavy metal poisoning. He questioned this diagnosis, because his wife had accompanied him on this trip and never experienced symptoms. While hospitalized, he began to research the effects of stress on the body and found that it could be detrimental to the immune system.
Cousins read about the theory that negative emotions are harmful to the body, so he concluded that if negative emotions were detrimental to health, then positive emotions should improve health.
He checked himself out of the hospital and into a Manhattan hotel suite. He hired a nurse who read humorous stories and played Marx Brothers movies for him. Although his physician did not endorse this, he took massive doses of vitamin C. The only reason the physician went along with this, was that Cousins so strongly believed in the vitamin C supplement. The treatment proved to be so effective that in very little time Cousins was off all painkillers and sleeping pills. He found that the laughter relieved the pain and would help him sleep. He once said, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
He returned to work and wrote about his experimental treatment in his book, Anatomy of an Illness. In 1989, it was finally acknowledged in the Journal of the American Medical Association that laughter therapy could help improve the quality of life for patients with chronic illness, and that laughter has an immediate symptom relieving quality.
We may not all rise to the effectiveness of Norman Cousins, but I am sure that we can make a difference. Jesus called us to be the salt and light of the world, and think what a miracle worker you could be if you made it your mission to laughter to the community.
One day at the cells, there was an assembly about some matter or other and Abba Evagrius held forth. ‘Abba, we know that if you were living in your own country you would probably be a bishop and a great leader; but at present you sit here as a stranger.’ He was filled with compunction, but was not at all upset and bending his head he replied, ‘I have spoken once and will not answer, twice but will proceed no further.’ (Job 40:5)
——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
A key to knowing the meaning of the Abba’s words is to pay careful attention to the scripture he quotes. The story of the biblical character Job is a most fascinating and perplexing one. Job is a man of great wealth and influence and losses it all because of a random conversation between God and the evil one. The point at which we jump into this story is where Job finally decides to stop arguing his case to God and begins to listen to the Almighty as a man and not a peer. We all have callings in life, and we try to live them out with all our strength. We, like Abba Evagarius, are faced with the curiosity of our peers. In the midst of these questions we must come to a simple conclusion, and it is that we cannot always explain the ways of God in our life but we must live them out. After you have tried to figure it out several times it is time to be silent and remain attentive to Him. We are surrounded by a world that thinks we should have taken one turn and another in our journeys, but we are consoled that in following the will of the Master we have done the better thing.