Skip to main content

Posts

The Other Side of Envy

"Do not dwell in a place where you see others are envious of you, for you will not grow there."
 - Abbot Pastor

I'd never considered envy from the other side until I came across Abbot Pastor's strange little saying. I could pound out a little blog post in no time about the evils of envy. There would be a special circle in my freshly imagined hell for Madison Avenue advertising executives. I’d have them tormented eternally by surrounding them with monks who have no envy at all for the beautiful people in their ads and for whatever it was they were selling. Seems unfair to the monks, though. Maybe I'd better rethink this.

See where the familiar trajectories of thought so often lead? Especially those driven by judgment? I'll soon have everyone in hell if it's up to me to make things right.

It's startling to hear that the one who is being envied is in a place devoid of nourishment. Growth can't happen if our soul's food is the envy of others. Mayb…
Recent posts

Painstaking speech

Technology, folks are saying, will help us overcome the isolation we’re feeling during this pandemic. And to some extent, that’s true. I can see my friends and co-workers in digital replication on Zoom, or glean some good ideas from my creative friends on how to spend the time, or track how communal response is unfolding in communities far from me.

But considering the well-established fact that social media hasn’t had an overall positive effect on our relationships, self-esteem, anxiety levels, loneliness, sleep patterns— not to mention our national conversation — I’m more than a little concerned. If social media and the digital existence are our lifelines now, what sort of life will we find answering on the other end of the line?

Rowan Williams writes in Where God Happens (p. 76), “However physically distant we may be from the more obvious temptations, there is always the damage that can be done by speech, by the giving and receiving of doubtfully truthful perspectives, the half-hi…

Love Over Fear

After a long while in the Egyptian desert, Anthony said, “Now I no longer fear God, I love him, for love casts out fear.”
by the Rev. Buddy Stallings

When Scott first asked me to write a brief meditation on a teaching of one of the Desert Fathers, my response was, “Do you have any idea how long it has been since I have thought of a Desert Father?” In his inimitably kind way, he chuckled gently and told me the deadline for having it written.
To tell the truth, even when I studied the Desert Fathers long ago in seminary, I didn’t think about them a great deal. None of them, not one, seemed like someone I would enjoy getting to know or certainly one with whom I would want to share a meal. Asceticism by definition does not elicit imaginings of culinary excellence. And, yet, even then, I was insightful enough to know that my real resistance was that I suspected they were on to something in their search for God that I most likely would never have the nerve or strength to engage: long, seriou…

Your Cell Will Teach You

“In Scetis a brother went to Moses to ask for advice. He said to him, ‘Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’”
by the Rev. Paul McLain
This new reality of social distancing and safe-at-home may be with us awhile. One of the temptations we face is seeing this as a time to find means of escape until we get back to “normal.” Yes, for many of us, we will need to find some escape valves along the way to avoid going stir crazy. But, if our whole life becomes about seeking escape and distraction, we will miss an opportunity. Rowan Williams writes, “We are easily persuaded that the problem of growing up in the life of the spirit can be located outside ourselves. Somewhere else I could be nicer, holier, more balanced, more detached about criticism, more disciplined, able to sing in tune, and probably thinner as well. Unreality has a huge advantage over reality in some ways since it is not obliged to obey any laws of cause and effect. But there’s the catch – you are inv…

Bootstraps & Hermits

According to Laurence Freeman, some hermits used to say, "If you see a young man climbing up to heaven by his own will, catch him by the foot and pull him down to earth, for it is not good for him."

Hard as I pull on my own bootstraps, I’ve never been able to lift myself even an inch toward heaven. Have you? The cliche has never made a lick of sense to me. It makes perfect sense, however, that a bootstrap would provide a fine grip if you’re trying to pull somebody else back down to earth. It seems the bootstrap theology of the hermits of the Egyptian desert was a near perfect inversion of ours.

Our conception of economic life is one thing that’s floated off toward the heavens in my lifetime. We’ve increasingly thought of economic health more in terms of disembodied markets rather than incarnate human beings living deeply interconnected lives. It's more about Dow Jones Averages than actual people who get up in the morning and cook a meal or teach a child or install a fauce…

Judgment and community

“The monk must die to his neighbor and never judge him at all in any way whatever.” - Father Moses
One of the most common misunderstandings of monasticism that I encounter among well-intentioned, social-justice-oriented folks is that monastics run, coward-like, from community rather than serve in its midst.
Of course, it doesn’t take long after visiting any monastic community to see that this isn’t true — they’re all involved in serving the outside community in various ways. But more than that, immediately one sees that these people are living in a particular form of community that takes its responsibility to one another far more seriously than common society.
This is true of the desert fathers. Far from abandoning their neighbors, they understood that the normal way of world not only lives in casual disregard of neighbor, but that our fleeting interactions naturally lead us right into judgment of neighbor. It is not from interacting with neighbors that the desert fathers flee: th…

What to do when doing less

In a sermon this summer responding to the text of working Martha and idling Mary, I said that "doing less" might save the world (from climate change) and might save our souls, too. I preached this into a world of frenetic activity, to people with suffocatingly busy lives, with multiple and/or life-draining jobs, with children whose schedules could justify hiring a personal secretary to manage them. I preached it to a world that finds silence uneasy and stillness suspect, a world in which progress could only be measured by increased productivity.
It was a different world than the one I find myself in now.
Suddenly, life has ground to a halt all around us. People who once felt like ghosts in their own homes are stuck within it for the foreseeable future. Jobs are being done remotely, and often, not at all.
The sudden, violent shove into a new way of being has meant the loss of many of the structures and schedules that gave our lives meaning and purpose, and we know there ar…