Tag Archives: Desert Monastics

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.

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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.

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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.

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