Condemnation or Kindness? You Get a Choice You Know.

One day St. Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced together. During the meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. The old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (p 57, ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’)

Do you see the difference?

On the surface, I know that as much as I’d like to live as St. Epiphanius, there are those with whom I cannot reconcile. The reasons may be many, a few or just one, but it remains there is not going to peace. Do you have similar situations that have played out in your life? Are there those who you are odds with by your doing or theirs? Do you find your sleep unsettled? Do you find hatred at the heart of the matter? Pain? Grief? Loss of control?

Truly, the life of desert fathers and mothers limited their interaction with other people. They escaped to the desert to wrestle with the passions, with their sinfulness. It was the formation of the monastery life and the convents we are familiar with today. It is an admirable life and one which is more complicated than it may appear. Still, there are times when the complaint against us is beyond anything you can control.

But there is a lesson here, even deeper. Besides the truth that we are not able to control the behaviors of others, there is a deep difference in how people perceive the devout, religious life. For some, it is about maintaining rules, of manufacturing points of judgment where we might compare and complain and present ourselves as mightier and greater than others. You might even tear down those who threaten you. In the recent upheaval of the evangelical church, John MacArthur’s deriding comments to author and teacher, Beth Moore, is a great example.  Why make it a spectacle?  Where was the personal conversation?  Why the naming? And why the shaming? Let's be real here: how on earth is Beth Moore going stop any man from watching her videos?  Is she to hire bouncers so men don't "sneak into" her seminars?

What is the greater life? To be merely about rules or about being in a relationship? Is it about loving the “law” or is it the law of loving God first and loving others as you love yourself? In the story of Hilarion and the Epiphanius, we see a ‘law’ of personal preference and the law of God, which in truth, is the Law of Love. We see two gracious people, seeking after holiness and righteousness before God. We see gracious words spoken, not in condemnation but in kindness.
Centuries later, the lessons are still there for us to learn.  What will you now do?

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter

The Lion had been hurt by the horns of a goat which he had brought down. He was very angry to think that any animal that he chose for a meal, should be so brazen as to wear such dangerous things as horns to scratch him while he ate. So he commanded that all animals with horns should leave his domains within twenty-four hours.

The command struck terror among the animals. All those who were so unfortunate as to have horns began to pack up and move out. The funny thing is, even impacted the Rabbit. As you know, rabbits have no horns and so had nothing to fear, passed a very restless night, dreaming awful dreams about the fearful Lion.

When Rabbit came out of the warren in the early morning sunshine and saw the shadow cast by his long and pointed ears, a terrible fright seized him. He turned to the branch where his friend, Cricket, lived. "Goodbye, Cricket," he called. "I will miss you, but I'm off. Lion will certainly make out that my ears are horns, no matter what I say."

This fall, our Bible Study at church has been delving into the Book of Proverbs. These past few weeks, we have been looking at what this book of wisdom has to offer about the tongue (how we talk) and then we’ve looked at how we are encouraged to choose a good name over riches (22:1). 

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter. 

There is so very much that is out of control in our lives, so many things we can do nothing to change, it strikes me as interesting how we have not been more attentive to these two very important aspects of our world and lives we do have the power to influence. We are told the tongue can be incredibly destructive to others. This we see regularly spewed throughout our radios, social media, and TV. Even the calls for people to “say something” are more often attempts to shame others.

When I read the words of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, we find they wrote very little but their disciples are the ones who recorded the words of wisdom we read today. They saw many evils and witnessed as much corruption as we do in our day. They rarely spoke unless spoken to by others and even then, at times, they said nothing at all leaving people to their own conclusions. Proverbs 10:19 states: “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.” Actions and words both form a reputation for sometimes our words ARE actions.

And here I come back to Rabbit. He understood clearly there was nothing more to be said or that could be said to change the heart of the Lion. There are times that the pen is mightier than the sword and there are times to realize no matter what you might say or do, nothing will impact others.

So what are we left with? We are left with Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues justice and love will find life and honor.” You do what you can and take to heart John Wesley’s encouragement: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. When you fail: admit and repent. Follow then what the Apostle Paul taught: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” (Romans 12:18)

As noble as lions can be, they have bad days and bad moments. As peaceful as a rabbit might be, they can be prideful, too, just ask the tortoise. The choice we have is in ourselves - how we respond. Know yourself and when it is right, do right. If you must, use words.

Image: Pixabay

Walking Out of Church with Abba Bessarion

Once, when the desert father, Abba Bessarion, was attending church, a brother was turned out of the church by a priest. Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”

The stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers often are seen for simple stories. Like the parables of Jesus, however, there are often far deeper truths present. These truths “explode” upon our reasoning when we are often unaware. Sometimes those truths change us for the better and at other times, we are forced to deal with blind spots.

One understanding of human beings is the Johari Window. 
If you look at the idea of the Johari Window, you find four “window panes.” One is the OPEN AREA where you are completely transparent and all around you know about these parts of your life. Then comes the BLIND SPOT, the places where other people know things about you but you don’t see these parts. Thirdly comes the FACADE, what you know about yourself that you don’t let anyone else know. And finally comes the UNKNOWN, the part of you still don’t know and neither does anyone else.

Each one of us has these four parts in our lives and our beliefs. The more I journey the life of faith, I find it more and more valuable to own my blind spots that I most especially share with others. Abba Bessarion’s words are a good reminder: “I, too, am a sinner.”

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