Tag Archives: Desert Monastics

Breaking the Bow

8-16-17

A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So, he did. The old man said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. Then the old man said, “Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.

—— Abba Anthony of the Desert

From the beginning there have always been people who have viewed the Christian life as a life of drudgery. This type of life that has no room for fun or laughter. The hunter in our saying was shocked to see that monks could have fun, after all, monks were supposed to be serious and reverent. Monastic (Christian) life just has to be extremely hard, difficult and exhausting. There can be no room for laughter or relief. Abba Anthony taught the hunter the necessity of diversion and relief by challenging him to test his bow beyond its endurance. Every person, every machine, has its limits. When those limits are exceeded a breakdown can occur. Just as the hunter’s bow had its breaking point if rest was not given, so do we. What are some “take aways” from this saying?

  • Don’t judge people by your preconceived opinions.
  • Don’t neglect your need for down time.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Don’t force your body to endure beyond its capacity.
  • God wants you to laugh.
  • God wants you to meet people where they are.
  • God wants you to strengthen people.

Let us not make the mistake of lording over people that God sends our way. Show them that you are kind and generous, but most of all, that you are genuine. We can accomplish so much more for the kingdom when we allow ourselves to be genuine and vulnerable. Then the world sees Christians as their friends who want the best for them. Too often, the world sees the followers of Jesus as demanding, harsh and a rule driven sort of people. The world is truly looking for the “good news” and we can give it to them. People are strengthened and renewed by laughter and kindness and that is the calling of a Christian to bring light and life to the world.

Do something that is burden easing for someone this week.


Prayer

My Lord, help me to spread your grace to those around me. Help me to be a person of light to all I encounter. I pray that You will plant in me the secret of being a burden lifter for those you have entrusted to my influence. May my world be filled with laughter and joy.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba Anthony, Desert Fathers

How to Find Peace?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

—- Philippians 4:7-9

There were two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled. Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.” “I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him: “Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.” To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.” And so they were not able to have a quarrel.

—-Sayings of the Desert

Recently I was teaching a Bible study group and said the best decision I ever made was to keep politics out of my ministry. A person quickly replied that as long as I was a pastor of a church I would be involved in politics. I was of course thinking of secular politics, but the point hit hard. We as Christians have surrendered to the idea that political conflict is an unavoidable part of the church. Yes, decisions have to be made and people will naturally not all think the same, but do we really all have to have it our way?

The quintessential question for the church is: are we doing church our way or God’s way?

The two old Monks had lived a life of harmony for many years. Because of theirPeace1 commitment to Christ they had not lived as others had lived. Heaven forbid, they had not had a quarrel. Their plan was to find something to quarrel about. The brick was picked and the quarrel was supposed to ensue, but it did not. Why? The simple answer is that if we put others first we won’t have anything to argue about. That is quite a novel idea for our society.

Years before that Paul was writing to the church at Philippi, and they were obviously in a struggle. His advice was to see the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. God’s peace is honorable and good. Such a peace seeks out things to praise, and majors on what is good. God’s peace never seeks to be selfish or grudging. Our challenge is to look at the story from the desert and from Paul and make it our story. Perhaps if we spent some time trying to live as peacemakers, we could find more fulfillment than we ever imagined. I will pray every day that God will allow the church to escape the politics and conflict of the world and be truly a sanctuary for all who enter its doors.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Prayer

Lord allow us to be first and foremost a peacemaker. Help us to understand that all conflict comes from our need to control. When we encounter controlling people give us the patience and grace to hold our tongue and allow you to do your work. We pray for this elusive gift of your peace, Lord. May we receive it today.

Amen

4 Comments

Filed under Desert Fathers, Peace

Kingdom Humility

 

‘There was a spiritual old man who lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honor, and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone’s notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. The whole city then came out to see his glory. The more he wished to flee from the glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is written: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” ‘

——-Abba John the Dwarf

Every person who seeks to be a fervent follower of God wants to be seen as humble. Humility is the identifying hallmark of Jesus our Savior. No matter how hard we try, we are still driven by the human desire to be recognized and appreciated. Much of our spiritual journey is spent trying to control our need to succeed. After much prayer and determination we may arrive at the point in life where we really don’t want the spotlight and recognition. Then the new journey begins. Our challenge now is how do we avoid worldly affirmation and acclaim?

The spiritual old man was struggling with that very challenge. He, no doubt, had put much prayer and work to arriving at place in life where he shunned the notice of others. He wanted to comfort the brother who had reached out to him, but he devised a plan of making sure that his act of kindness would be done in the dark of night. That way, he thought, no one would notice, but God had another plan. God decided to send angels to light his path. This display of spiritual presence brought a torrent of attention on the spiritual old man. The very attention that he had sought to avoid was what he received. What does this mean?

Abba John uses the scripture: “He who humbles himself will be exalted” as a way of expressing why such attention is thrust upon the spiritual old man. The truth that I would like to point out is that acclaim only has value if God is the source. The world recognizes worldly values, God recognizes kingdom values. Perhaps if we all sought to be anonymous purveyors of blessing, we may find ourselves more valued by God and the world than we ever dreamed or imagined. The key to getting all the acclamation, success and self-esteem we can handle is found in the ability to be truly humble. That is kingdom humility and it is the goal of every follower of the Christ.


Prayer

Lord instill in me the form of humility that is not derived in self depreciation and doubt but one that is spiritually placed by you. I ask you today to give me the insight to understand what you mean by humility so that I might be one who is gifted with kingdom humility. With that gift we are allowed to be tremendous servants to the world. Lord I pray for this gift and with it I may be your faithful servant.

Amen

2 Comments

Filed under Abba John the Dwarf, Humility

Loving Like God

Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.’ They said to him,’ What does this saying mean?’ He said, ‘The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must trust, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.’

—-Abba John the Dwarf

In the 1960’s there was a movie called: “Dr. Strangelove.” The simplistic plot was about a ridiculous plan of a retaliatory nuclear attack. The plan was ridiculous and so was the name of the man, Dr. Strangelove, who formulated it. This Abba’s is based on the biblical record of a conversation that occurred between Jesus and a lawyer. He asked Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  That is a difficult, demanding, somewhat strange command. The fascinating thing about the wisdom of the monk is that he tells us to begin with something we can see. As much as we would all desire to see God, we can’t see God in the flesh but we do see our neighbor. The key to experiencing God is understanding the depth of His love. God loves us at our worst and we are challenged to love our neighbors at their worst.

All too often when go for what is easy, quick, and painless the result is the foundation of our spiritual house is sinking sand. The love of neighbor is the key to understanding the nature of God. He is a loving, understanding creator and not a cruel and harsh master. To the contrary, with a heart of compassion and mercy, He welcomes sinners into His kingdom. They don’t get the “cheap seats,” but receive a regal welcome. The beginning of that journey is to see God in His creation. Loving His creation – cheats, liars and thieves – is loving Him. Maybe this is a strange love to many of us, but it is the way God loves.

Prayer

Lord help me to grasp this most difficult teaching of loving my neighbor. All too often our neighbors are those who hurt us the most. Allow your grace and my understanding of your love to rise to a level that allows this love to flow from me. In the act of such love we find an elusive peace that brings us closer to you.

Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Abba John the Dwarf, Love of God

The Beginning of Good

It happened that when Abba Arsenius was sitting in his cell that he was harassed by demons. His servants, on their return, stood outside his cell and heard him praying to God in these words, ‘O God, do not leave me. I have done nothing good in your sight, but according to your goodness, let me now make a beginning of good.’

—Abba Arsenius

prayer young man 1“I have done no good but allow me to make a beginning of good,” says the monk. How do we make a beginning of good? Do we go out and do a lot of good deeds, give sacrificially to others or read the Bible daily? None of those things would hurt us, and they may even help, but such actions are not the beginning of good. Jesus says that we must leave behind the things of the world and seek God. In our seeker’s journey, we will find good. That good is recognizing our helplessness in comparison to our Creator. When we accomplish that, we can then start doing the “good” things.

The beginning of good is when we learn that we are totally dependent upon God Good-Deeds-2and have the courage to admit it. Such a simple confession changes our lives and allows us to begin the path that leads to good. A professing Christian does not plan to do good but does good naturally. The Holy Spirit that lives in us guides us to situations and time that allow the light of God to shine through us.

1 Comment

Filed under Abba Arsenius, Christian Journey, Desert Fathers

Love,God and My Neighbor

Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘A house is not built by beginning at the top and working down. You must begin with the foundations in order to reach the top.’ They said to him,’ What does this saying mean?’ He said, ‘The foundation is our neighbor, whom we must trust, and that is the place to begin. For all the commandments of Christ depend on this one.’

—-Sayings of the Desert

This saying is based on the biblical record of a conversation that occurred between Jesus and a lawyer. He ask Him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, John the Dwarfwith all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The fascinating thing about the wisdom of the monk is that he tells us to begin with something we can see. As much as we would all desire, we can’t see God in the flesh. The key to experiencing God is understanding the depth of His love. God loves us at our worst and we are challenged to love our neighbors at their worst.

All too often we go for what is easy, and the foundation of our spiritual house is sinking sand. The love of neighbor is the key to understanding of the nature of God. He is a loving and understanding creator, and not a cruel and harsh master. With a heart of compassion and mercy, He welcomes sinners into His kingdom. They don’t not get the “cheap seats,” but receive a regal welcome. The beginning of that journey is to see God in His creation. Trusting His creation is trusting Him.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 Comments

Filed under Desert Fathers, John the Dwarf

Weeping for Ourselves

It was said of him that he had a hollow in his chest channeled out by the tears which fell from his eyes all his life while he sat at his manual work. When Abba Poemen learned that he was dead, he said weeping, ‘Truly you are blessed, Abba Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering.’

—- Sayings of the Desert

ArseniusHow many of us really take sin seriously enough to weep for ourselves. In a world of much rationalization and warped reasoning, it is woefully easy to excuse ourselves from blame for anything. In the early ‘70s, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Years after Dr. Menninger’s death, his question still remains. Our culture has scraped the idea of sin as glibly as we dispose of our obsolete cell phones and computers. People who attend our churches don’t want to hear anything on Sunday that would upset them or cause just the slightest feeling of discomfort. When the words of the pastor or scripture itself cause introspection, it is time to flee. After all, I come to church to make myself feel better.

Abba Arsenius gives us an entirely different model for this matter. His feeling of sin was so deep that he spent untold hours weeping on his own behalf. Arsenius understood the gravity of the human condition and the gratefulness we should express because of God’s grace. No presumption was made that God loves us so much that we are forgiven even if do not repent. He wept for his own sins, and I believe the world would be a far better place if we did the same.

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Comment

Filed under Abba Arsenius, Abba Poeman, Desert Fathers

God’s Backdoor

‘It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.’

— Amma Sarah

Amma sara 1The world is full of people who looking are for the right time, the right place, the right motive, or the right feeling to begin to serve others. I have been guilty of this sort of thing more than once in my life. The wise elder is telling us to give for whatever motive that we possess. In this case alms are given to please men, but even a wrongly motivated act of grace can be a backdoor to pleasing God.

God’s essential call to us is to look outside of ourselves and to act as He would act. Think about it, God in the form of the man Jesus, came to live and die on this earth for you and me. Not only did He do this great act of kindness, but He did it knowing that many would reject Him. Let us use His example as a call to action. We are called to muster whatever amount of kindness and compassion that we can find in our souls. Don’t wait for everything to be “just right,” just act. God will use your actions for good. He will be pleased. Enter His backdoor, He welcomes you.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a comment

Filed under Amma Sarah of the Desert, Ascetics