Drawing of the Crucifixion by St. John of the Cross
Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
you fled like the stag
after wounding me;
I went out calling you, but you were gone.
—-Canticle of John of the Cross Stanza 1
God has hidden His true self from us is the first cry of the soul. Indeed every seeker of God longs for the mystical presence because in such a presence we can touch the hand of God. John tells us in his canticle that such a presence is hidden from us. The long journey of the believer is to find that level of the spiritual which is concealed from us by asking God to manifest His divine essence to us. The search for the divine leaves us moaning. We are left in a state of grief because the quest is so elusive. Victory does not come to he who prays the most or the loudest.
The mere wisp of the touch of God flees from us us as quickly as the cautious deer when he sites a man. We get a little glimpse of God, and it wounds us because we want so much more of Him. We call after Him and we cannot find Him. All manner of prayer and sacred reading is this search for the essence of God in the here and now. In John’s canticle I feel a sense of urgency and determination that are vital elements to a true relationship with God.
One of the best things about riding a bicycle around town is that you get to observe things up close and personal. Bike riding puts you in the middle of the action. You can smell the smells, feel the heat and hear the sounds you miss in your car.
In a recent ride along Bayou St. John I noticed a mother duck and her ducklings swimming in the bayou. I stopped as she came on shore and began to lead them to a new spot. One of the ducklings began to lag behind the group and suddenly the volume of her “quacks” went up to an ear crushing sound. Sure enough the little slacker knew that it was a signal to speed up and catch up. He did and the rhymic quacking continued as they moved to a place to rest.
You may ask, how can this relate to the missional practice of a Christian?
Let’s think about that for a moment.
The ducklings began as a unit. It was not the mother duck that left the duckling behind but the duckling that moved slower than the rest.
—The mother duck had the best and the brightest duckling right behind her.
—The slacker was slowing down the journey.
—The slacker caused the mother to expend more energy.
What missional points can we gleam from this little story?
—We must allow for those who don’t follow the crowd.
—We must set the pace of our journey so that all can travel.
—We must expend energy and time to help those who are less motivated.
Remember we are called to care for each other as we are on the journey.
Saint Macarius of Egypt and the Cherub. Venerable Saint Macarius (ca. 300- d. 391, Scetes, Egypt) is one of the most prominent desert Fathers of the Church, known also as Macarius the Great. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
‘A mother came here with her little child, possessed with a devil, who said to his mother, “Get up, woman, let us go away from here.” She replied, “I cannot walk any further,” and the little child said to her, “I will carry you myself.” I wondered at the devil’s tricks and how eager he was to make them flee.’
——-sayings of the Desert Fathers
I would be the first to say that this story is a myth, but we must be reminded that myths and legends put forth great truths. The actuality of this story is that evil can appear to be helpful. If all that was destructive in our society would hurt and destroy, then most of us would never go in that direction. Sin, evil comes in various disguises that fool us into thinking that it is the proper thing to do. The wisdom of the fathers is that evil will do anything to get away from good. It will promise success, fame and fortune but it will always flee from what is good and right.
I don’t know the original author of these “Great Truths about Life That Little Children Have Learned,” but they have become internet legend.
- No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.
- When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.
- If your sister hits you, don’t hit her back. They always catch the second person.
- Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
- You can’t trust dogs to watch your food.
- Reading what people write on desks can teach you a lot.
- Don’t sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
- Puppies still have bad breath even after eating a tic tac.
- Never hold a dustbuster and a cat at the same time.
- School lunches stick to the wall.
- You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
- Don’t wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
- The best place to be when you are sad is in Grandma’s lap.
All of these “truths” point to the simple life and yet simplicity eludes us in our complicated, fast paced lives. Our world yearns for simplicity. Not one among us would turn down the opportunity to have Grandma comfort us when we are sad. Jesus said:” Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” It was the simplicity and innocence of a child that was the key to truth that Jesus brings to us. Our lives are complicated enough. Let us live in the simplicity of trusting Jesus.
North Africa 2007 260 Monastery of the Syrians in Wadi el Natrun (Photo credit: David Holt London)
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 Fathers
We live in a world of “have it your way,” but in order for us to communicate with the Creator of the universe we must understand His time. Not only was the Abba obedient, he was patient. He kept about his task for much longer than was reasonable. In our world we expect things to happen very quickly, and if they don’t we just give up. We lack that “long suffering” obedience it takes to accomplish the very best of this life and the life to come. I dare say that not one among us would water a dead stick for three months, let alone three years! Try to look for the “dead sticks” that God would bring to life if only we were patient and obedient disciples.
It is said that World War II military hero, George Patton, couldn’t or wouldn’t control his temper as a young officer. Patton once ordered a mule shot. Why? It had gotten in the way of his jeep. He forced members of an antiaircraft unit to stand at attention for being sloppily dressed, despite the fact that they had just beaten off an attack and some of the men were wounded. In one notorious incident, he slapped a hospitalized, shell-shocked soldier, and denounced the man for being a coward.
Soon after that incident General Eisenhower, his commanding officer, ordered him to publicly apologize to the soldier, postponed his promotion to general, and put him on probation as a commander. To the surprise of many people, General Patton had no other incidents for the remainder of the war. For two years Patton controlled himself. He received his promotion and went on to win many battle for the remainder of WWII. This behavior-this control- was something that was always in him , but he never was given a real reason to do so until his commander called him to account.
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those”
God has placed inside each person all that we need to exercise self-control and forgiveness. In order for us to be all that we can be we need accountability and motivation, the likes of which comes from being a part of a church. Jesus , our Lord, calls us to account.
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.’
Are any of us patient and dedicated enough
to devote three years to what would seem an impossible task? My first answer would be-no. The journey that God has given me in New Orleans has given me cause to rethink that answer. Arriving shortly after the city had received its devastating blow, it was evident that growth would be slow, patience would be required and most of all deep commitment would be necessary. In our fast pace, instant world Abba John teaches a great lesson. Let God work out the timetable
Do you allow God to work in His time or do you insist that He work in yours?