abbas

Demons Don't Mess With Me!

As a child there were few people in the world as intimidating as Mike Tyson. No one messed with Mike Tyson. He was small, mighty, strong and fearless - all things that I desired to be physically. As I grew older I discovered that I was not the physical specimen that Tyson was so they physical strength was out of the question. However, I applied these same desired attributes toward my spiritual formation. That is I wanted to be as mighty, strong and fearless so that even the demons would be afraid to mess with me. 

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Poemen

By St. Poimen Greek Orthodox Broterhood Arizona, USA

As I come into my thirty-sixth year of life, I can proudly say that demons do not mess with me, but not because I am strong and mighty.  

One of the desert teachers of Christianity from the late antiquity period was given the name Abba Poemen. Abba Poemen was asked by a student "Why do the demons attack me?"

Abba Poemen said to him, "Is it the demons who attack you? It is not the demons who attack me. When we follow our self-will then our wills seem like demons and it is they who urge us to obey them. If you want to know who the demons really attack, it is against Moses (another Abba) and those like him." - The Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward

I am less like Mike Tyson to the demons and more like "Glass Joe" - which is why the demons don't mess with me. I am easily overwhelmed by my own ego and self will to be any threat to a demon. 

My Doing Impacts My Vision

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I love the idea of being still, but my own sense of self-worth is wrapped up in "doing". There is a great little story from the desert teachers in the Christian tradition that goes something like this:

So the two went away to see him who had withdrawn into the desert, and they told him their troubles. They asked him to tell them how he himself had fared. He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water,’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. Then he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognizes his own faults.’

The irony of course is that in all my "doing" I cloud up the waters and cannot see very well. I then think that since I cannot see very well it must be because I am not working hard enough to see clearly, so I work and stir up the waters even more. 

I love to see clearly. I struggle to be still. 

Racism - "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them..."

Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. gave an interview to Krys Boyd of KERA Think on February 6, 2017 that was worth listening to for a number of reasons. Within in the interview was a metaphor offered up by Dr. Glaude that struck a chord with me about racism. 

Dr. Glaude stated that he was not a climate change denier and he believes that the climate is warming and that we are in a climate crisis. However, he notes, that if you look at the actions of his life, you might think otherwise. He lives his life as though he believes the world's climate is just fine although he intellectually believes otherwise. 

I do not think that I am a racist. I firmly believe in equality and I abhor acts of hate and injustice between people. However, if you look at the actions of my life you could string together a case that I don't care that much about injustice. For instance, I purchase things that I know are built by people living in inhumane conditions.

I do not believe that I am a racist, however (as this little video highlights) not being racist is different from being anti-racist.

I am beginning to come to terms that just because I do not believe that I am a racist or do things that are traditionally thought of as racists actions, I unknowingly do things that cause harm. I am reminded of the great story of Abba Moses that goes like this:

One of the brothers committed a sin. Moses was invited to attend a council about this, but he refused to go. Then a priest sent someone to say to him, “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother, but forgave him.

I live unaware of the sin that runs out behind me. I am unaware of the messes that I make. This does not mean I am an evil person only that I am human and ought to strike a more humble posture in my life.

Sit in your cell for it will teach you everything

Too many times we think that spirituality is something that we do. Perhaps it is our need to feel like we are in control of our own lives or perhaps it is just the way we have been taught, but doing is often not helpful for spiritual formation. 

There was a desert father called Abba Moses who once said, "Go sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything." It was also said that a monk outside of his cell is like a fish out of water, only able to live for a little while. 

Why would sitting in a cell be the great teacher to Abba Moses and the other desert Christians? 

I would suggest that sitting in a silent and quiet place helps God find us. 

Imagine you are in a totally dark forest. Imagine that God is also in this forest. You each are looking for each other. Because you are both moving it is much harder to locate each other. Your yelling out for God drowns out the still small voice of the one you are searching for. Groping among the trees, you grow frustrated at your inability to find the source of all life and love. And so you sit down.

And when you sit down, you finally hear what you could not hear before. You hear the still small voice. And, in due time, God finds you. 

Sit in your cell, for it will teach you everything.