It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his elder brother, ‘I should like to be free of all care, like the angels, who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.’ So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I am John, your brother.’ But he replied, ‘John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer among men.’ Then the other begged him saying. ‘It is I.’ However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him, ‘You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat.’ Then John made a prostration before him, saying, ‘Forgive me.’
——Abba John the Dwarf
If you think that you can never be totally angelic while you are still living and breathing, you are undoubtedly right. Living as one who is free from the cares of the world does not mean neglecting the duties of this life. John got the crazy idea that he could live as an angel and informed his brother and went off to follow that path. The idea failed! He returned and wanted back in immediately. The brother was not so anxious to receive him, because he knew the concept of being angelic came from his own ego and not from God.
We should be ever aware that we all have feet of clay who are put on this earth as stewards of God’s gifts, and we should never take it upon ourselves to be more that God has created us to be. Work, our work, God’s work is our responsibility. Not one among us can say that we have never dreamed ourselves out of the toil of human existence but we are awakened soon to the world in which we live. We, like John, need to experience, that awakening and ask for forgiveness when we come to such a crossroad of life.
Heavenly bliss is saved for heaven.
Lord help me to keep my focus on you while I toil though the tasks of this life. Keep me free from the temptation of the evil that leads to rejection of your plan for me. Cover my sins with your grace and fill my heart with the joy that comes from knowing you.
It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His Abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, ‘Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.’ Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, ‘Take and eat the fruit of obedience.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
On face value this saying seems a little farfetched. Most of us who live in the 21st century want things to be logical and reasonable. The very idea of watering a dead stick daily for three years and having to travel a huge distance every day to get the water is beyond belief. Here’s the point, -if the story is a fable, it points us to a miracle wrought by obedience. If it’s true it still reveals a miracle that is wrought by obedience. John’s mentor calls it the “fruit of obedience.”
We are all called to obedience to the tasks that we are given. Most of us fight the very idea of being obedient to anything. After all, we live in a very freedom loving world and none of us wants to give up any of that freedom -not even for God. We give up our freedom for the gift of marriage and other relationships in our lives, so why not make one of those relationships with God and His church. Just as Abba John found the great blessing that awaited at the end of his road of obedience, we will find our reward only if we are set to the task.
In what way is God calling YOU today?
Lord give me the insight to recognize the things that I am called to do. Lord give me the humility to put self aside to perform tasks that sometimes seem unimportant to me. In doing so you help me to find the greater blessing that comes in the form of the fruit of obedience. Amen
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. – Step One of the Twelve Steps
English: A woman walking a prayer labyrinth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am convinced that the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous is going to go down as the significant and authentic American contribution to the history of spirituality. With inspiration from the Holy Spirit, Bill Wilson and all the other founders rediscovered the core teachings of Jesus and formed them into a program that could really change lives. It is a spirituality of imperfection, in contrast to Western Christianity’s emphasis on perfection, performance, and willpower.
I believe Jesus and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary:
- We suffer to get well.
- We surrender to win.
- We die to live.
- We give it away to keep it.
This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be avoided, until it is forced upon us by some reality over which we are powerless—and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.
Both the Gospel and the Twelve Step Program insist that the experience of powerlessness is the absolutely necessary starting point for transformational healing. This is perennial wisdom. Jesus called it the way of the cross, and he told us to follow him on the downward journey into powerlessness. It is there where we will find what is real, what lasts, and what matters. Through the crucifixion, Jesus showed us that powerlessness is the way through. It is not the end, but truly the beginning.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.