Monday, May 24, 2010

Making room for others...

May the following quote from a moving short story by Checkov serve as a reminder to us all to slow down and look beyond the surface in our day-to-day interactions with others...

Help us to slow down enough to see this!

“Iona turned round to tell them how his son died, but at that moment the hunchback gave a
little sigh of relief and announced that, thank God, they had come to the end of the journey. Having
received his twenty kopecks, Iona gazed after the revelers for a long time, even after they had
vanished through a dark gateway. Once more he was alone, once more silence fell on him. The grief
he had kept at bay for a brief while now returned to wrench his heart with still greater force. With an
expression of anxiety and torment, he gazed at the crowds hurrying along both sides of the street,
wondering whether there was anyone among those thousands of people who would listen to him. But
the crowds hurried past, paying no attention to him or to his grief. His grief was vast, boundless. If his
heart could break, and the grief could pour out of it, it would flow over the whole world; but no one
would see it. It had found a hiding place invisible to all: even in broad daylight, even if you held a
candle to it, you wouldn't see it.”

~ from “Heartache” by Anton Checkov

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Towards an Asceticism of Hospitality...

Dear Family and Friends,

After having returned from a trip to England (London, Darby, Cambridge and Essex) and a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos, an overarching theme has come to mind which was referenced continuously throughout our journeys. This theme can best be summed up with one word: hospitality. It is something that requires, in my mind, a few prerequisite notions:

  1. That we consider our brother to be our life. Or as others put it, our brother to be our salvation (1 John sums this up pretty well).
  2. That we leave room in our lives for our brother. This, of course, can take on many different forms, but in our busy society this might have to do with evaluating our jobs, family lives, recreation, and asking ourselves to what extent these are carried out for our own good, or that of others. With a job, for example, the prevailing philosophy nowadays can often very self-centered--everything being set up for success, even if it means stepping on others’ to do so. Our jobs, though, can be transformed in most cases into arenas for practicing this very principle of leaving room for others, even though it may cost us (financially, or in terms of self-respect or reputation etc.). Another aspect of this point, however, which is very important in our day and age is that we leave room for our neighbor in the busyness that is superficially created in our minds. Often the nature of our jobs and our pace of life can be associated with stress that builds up within our minds--the pounding and swirling of thoughts in our heads, whether its remembering an appointment, replaying an intense meeting or conversation, etc etc...All of these things that cause our minds to scatter and eventually snap under pressure, distract us from the still simplicity that is reality. If we clutter our minds with all of these false realities (because they are not actually even helping our every day realities, but only acting as pale distortions of them) we certainly DO NOT LEAVE ROOM FOR OUR BROTHER, which as many fathers say, is a door to meeting Christ. Sometimes humility means slowing down to the point of being able to listen. Often we say, “how can I slow down, I have so much to do.” Two points arise: either we need to re-evaluate how much we are doing in light of eternal values and consequences and maybe try to trim off the unnecessary time-fillers, or we need to come to grips with the fact that it is not the excess of jobs but the internal pace and scatterdness with which we meet these jobs. If we met them with a natural internal pace and one that we singly focused (usually on the prayer of Jesus or something similarly simple), maybe these things would not seem so difficult, and MAYBE they might even take on a whole new level of meaning and beauty...the mundane and even tedious suddenly becoming overwhelmingly brilliant and beautiful.
  3. That we do not see our spiritual life and our obligation towards our neighbor (i.e. family, friends, co-workers and everyone) as existing in conflict. Someone asked a monk at an active and frequently visited monastery, “how do you keep unceasing prayer active in your monastery with all of the noisy visitors?” The monk replied, “if our prayer ceases as a result of our interaction with the visitors it means that we were not praying for them as we should have been.” Other examples in the Gerontikon show that, in fact, an ascetic’s interaction with guests shows the true state of his/her heart and the fruit of their labors (i.e. whether their labors in prayer were purely out of pride and a sense of human accomplishment, or out of humble recognition that his labors are solely dependent on God’s Grace in transforming his heart in that of Christ’ that loves the whole world)Just as we see in the Old Testament with the visit of the Angels and many other examples in every day life, we do not know when we will be hosting Christ or angels. And this is not just an ethical metaphor or lesson but an ontological reality: that when we treat those made in God’s image as we would treat Christ, we are truly meeting Christ (“Lord when did you come to visit us?”). Leaving room for others (i.e. loving them) is an enormous act of asceticism, and requires an upheaval of our own will and a humble taking on and acceptance of the gift of Grace of the will of God in order to carry out this awesome love.
These were a few meditations that were picked up (among many) along our rich and profitable journey. The following is a nice story from the Gerontikon that might encourage us along the way (especially us perfectionists who constantly look at results instead of process :)):

A brother said to Abba Poimen:

“If I give to my brother a bit of bread or something else, the demons pollute this act as if it was done out of the desire to be liked by people.”

The Elder replies:

“And even if it happens out of people-pleasing, we will give to our brother whatever it is that he needs.”

And he told him the following parable:

“Two men were farmers and lived in the same city. One of them sowed his seed and produced a small and unclean harvest.

The other was negligent and did not sow, for this reason he did not have any harvest at all. If a famine were to occur, which out of the two would have enough to live?”

“The one who got the small and unclean harvest,” responded the brother.

“Thus, we too,” says the Elder, “let us sow a bit, even in an unclean way, in order not to die from hunger.”

Well, I think that’s all for now.

with much love,