The Church is not nearly as concerned with our physical sleep as we are. Tertullian (c. 160-225) was once asked by a woman if she should stay married to her non-believing husband. Tertullian asked her if he was respectful of her faith and whether he allowed her to do the midnight prayers. Back in the day people stayed awake to pray. For many people just the mention of prayer at night is like a glass of warm milk. But, what the Church and her scriptures are concerned about is spiritual slumber and spiritual sleepiness. We are told to Wake Up. It is later than we think. It is time to pray, fast and give alms. And it is time to embrace Watchfulness.
Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.” Mark 14:34
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Mark 14:35-41
Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch. Mark 13:33-37
Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light. Ephesians 5:14
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. Proverbs 20:13
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep Proverbs 6:9
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man Proverbs 24:33-34
James Whitmore 1921-2009 as Brooks Hatlen
We have drifted far from a lifestyle and culture that helps us to foster and practice contemplation. For man today, and most especially Western man, contemplation is a muscle that has atrophied. What is of value today is measured on one scale only and that scale is achievement. The problem with this philosophy is that we take our sense of worth from what we do rather than from who we are. If something is good only if it works then we are only good if we work and only as good as the work we do. AND if we are only valuable if we are achieving, producing and contributing no wonder we put away our handicapped, aged and sick. No wonder the unemployed, the retired and stay at home parents feel unfulfilled and useless. (Inspired from “The Shattered Lantern” by Ronald Rolheiser)
Heck, let’s go ahead and say what needs saying. And I warn you that this is going to sting. The protestant mega-church model seems to have adopted achievement as a sign of God’s blessing. I see it in the eyes of my protestant pastor friends when I mention that I pastor a church of about 100 total people. It almost like they want to say, “Hey, that’s OK!” Some even look like they feel bad for me.
A journalist once asked Thomas Merton what he considered to be the leading spiritual disease of our time. His answer surprised his interviewer. Of all the things he might suggested (lack of prayer, lack of community, poor morals, lack of concern for justice and the poor) he answered instead with one word: efficiency. Why? Because, according to Merton, “from the monastery to the Pentagon the plant has to run…and there is little time or energy left over after that for anything else.”
Our problem may not be badness, it might be busyness. This is a problem that can be resolved but everything is working against us including the time we live in and the theology and philosophy that we are told to believe. When I think of busy as a vice I think of Brooks from Stephen King’s “Shawshank Redemption.” He writes his prison friends soon after being paroled.
Dear fellas, I can’t believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid but now they’re everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.
Carl Jung was right when he said, “Hurry is not of the devil it is the devil.” Our souls need time for contemplation.
Driving to the Monastery
As I prepared for my journey to Saint Paisius Monastery everything in my life seemed to scream, “You cannot go to the monastery even for 24 hours!” My wife’s car is having transmission trouble, one of my kids is sick, my church is under re-construction after our flood, my other kids have homework and voice lessons, etc., etc. And to be perfectly honest, I have been experiencing some unusually high anxiety of late. I had to talk myself back into going to the monastery 3 times just yesterday. I am a little like King David telling his own soul to praise the Lord. I had to point a finger at my soul and say, “get on with the Monastery Reconnaissance.” The Lord was gracious, just starting to drive was a blessing. I love road trips and I needed these 24 hours away very badly (see above).
3 ½ hours later I pulled up to the gates of an industrious, joyful and ordered monastic sisterhood. After vespers, and what felt to me like a very early dinner, one of the sisters toured me around 15 of their 300 acres. I saw the beginnings of apple, olive and pomegranate orchards next to enclosures of goats, chickens and a guard donkey. I learned that no self-respecting coyotes mess with donkeys! While showing me around we came upon a Mojave snake. These sweet sisters are snake experts. The non-threatening snakes are left alone but the aggressive and dangerous rattlesnakes are a different matter. The snake we came upon was hissing and rattling something fierce. Turns out these Mojaves are ill-tempered bad boys.
- Start the clock: We see snake. 10 seconds.
- Sister #1 walkie-talkies Sister #2. 10 seconds.
- Sister #2 shows up with a shovel and long grabber tongs. Sister #2 grabs the snake near the head. 2 minutes.
- Sweet Sister #1 calmly uses shovel to separate that hissin’ part from the rattlin’ part. 10 seconds
- Time elapse: 2 ½ minutes.
After watching the Sisters take care of snake business I am convinced that this is a perfect parable of what is necessary to spend your life praying and working for hours everyday in the Eastern deserts of Arizona (or anywhere for that matter). The spiritual life is for those with self-control who can face danger with courage, bravery and heart.
A brother priest recently said to me, “Without the monasteries we are dead.” I now know more fully what he means. He was speaking about those of us who need to spiritually refuel. A monastery visit is for those of us who feel drained by the speed of life, the passage of time, the weight of responsibility and the pressure resisting temptation (or our failure to resist). Christians have been visiting monastic communities for 1500 years ever since the first men and women ran out in the Egyptian deserts seeking the Lord. Monastery visits have not been something I have practiced in any regular way. But watching these Sisters work and praying with them (beginning at 4:30 this morning) went a long way to putting me right again. I will be going back because without the monasteries we are dead.
This parable we hear today (see below) is Jesus’ response to Peter asking if he should be forgiving his brother up to 7 times. Jesus responded, “I do not say to you up to 7 times, but up to 70 times 7.”
Two years ago this month my son, John, and I almost drowned in the Pacific Ocean. It is a good story and one I will save for a different posting. But, let’s just say that I personally know the questions the servant who got his life back (see below) should be answering. Many of these questions came from an email I received from Fr. Tom Hopko when I was looking to understand what had happened to John and I in the ocean that day. But before I ask them I want to make it perfectly clear that these questions are for you as well. Life is short and it is later than you think. If you are still here that means that there is time enough, for us to do what needs doing!
If you are still alive you have been given a gift in the light of which the Lord is asking you to review your life, behavior, work, way of dealing with things, etc. for the sake of making some needed changes. Isn’t it the case that everything that happens to us is given as a gift for the sake of repentance and change and improvement?
So here are the basic questions:
- What am I doing with my life?
- How am I treating the people around me, beginning with my family?
- How am I doing my work?
- How am I fulfilling my ministry?
- How am I relating to God, and to death?
- Is there something specific that needs tending to?
- Something I should face, but am not facing?
- Something I should do, but am not doing?
- Something I should accept?
- Something I should admit and deal with?
- Something that I should let go of?
- Something I need to resolve?
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:23-35
Daily Reading in the Orthodox Church1 Corinthians 9:2-12; Matthew 18:23-35
We take a minute today to consider the Time Management chapter of Met. ANTHONY Bloom’s powerful “Beginning to Pray.” I like time management books, seminars, tools, etc. but that is not what this chapter is about. He spends almost no time on time management the way we understand it today. He begins by acknowledging that managing time is one of the most important problems we face today. His goal is to address the problem of praying within the speed at which our lives are moving. His focus is even more poignant considering the book was written almost 40 years ago! He says, “I will spare you any description of the way in which one can make time: I will only say that if we try and waste a little less of it, there will be more of it. If we use crumbs of wasted time to try to build short moments of recollection and prayer, we may discover that there is quite a lot of it.” Met. ANTHONY discusses our concept of time and how to live in the present moment. His use of the story of Jesus in the boat asleep as the storm comes up on the Sea of Galilee is masterful. I have previously blogged about his thoughts on the calming of the storm and staying in The Present Moment here.
Once we have found wasted time, be it 5 minutes or more, we can redeem it for reflection and prayer by being silent. He describes an old woman who had been praying the Jesus Prayer for 14 years and had never perceived God’s presence. She was praying the Jesus Prayer without trying to listen for the voice of God. He advised her to sit in silence and try to listen instead of only talking all the time. After she sat for 15 minutes she told Met. ANTHONY, “I perceived that the silence was not just an absence of noise, but that the silence had substance. It was not the absence of something but the presence of something. The silence had a density, a richness and it pervaded me. The silence around me began to come and meet the silence in me. All of a sudden I perceived that the silence was a Presence. At the heart of the silence was Him who was all stillness, all peace, all poise.” She continued to pray for 10 more years (dying at 102 years old) using words until she found Him in silence. According to Met. ANTHONY this can happen to us if we would be intent to not always be doing something. As beginners we should not try the highest form of silencing the mind in the heart. But rather we should start by silencing our lips, minds, bodies, iPods, etc. “And from now on we must learn to listen in silence, to be absolutely quiet and we may, more often then we imagine, discover that the Lord wants to come into our hearts and the words of the Book of Revelation come true: “I stand at the door and knock.”
Today’s readings in the Orthodox Church: Acts 25:13-19; John 16:23-33