Benedictine sister Joan Chittister reflects on a wisdom teaching from the Desert Fathers. We encourage you to read this teaching from Abba Moses on the illusion of innocence and the humbling truth that we all are wounded:
Once a brother committed a sin in Scetis, and the elders assembled and sent for Abba Moses. He, however, did not want to go. Then the priest sent a message to him, saying: “Come, everybody is waiting for you.” So he finally got up to go. And he took a worn-out basket with holes, filled it with sand, and carried it along. The people who came to meet him said: “What is this?” Then the old man said: “My sins are running out behind me, yet I do not see them. And today I have come to judge the sins of someone else.” When they heard this, they said nothing to the brother and pardoned him.
Sister Joan describes how contemplation helps us to recognize and to accept ourselves, and others, as we truly are:
The desert monastics are clear: Self-righteousness is cruelty done in the name of justice. It is conceivable, of course, that we might find a self-righteous religious. . . . It is probable that I might very well find myself dealing with a self-righteous friend or neighbor or even family member. But it is not possible to find a self-righteous contemplative. Not a real contemplative.
Contemplation breaks us open to ourselves. The fruit of contemplation is self-knowledge, not self-justification. “The nearer we draw to God,” Abba Mateos said, “the more we see ourselves as sinners.” We see ourselves as we really are, and knowing ourselves we cannot condemn the other. We remember with a blush the public sin that made us mortal. We recognize with dismay the private sin that curls within us in fear of exposure. Then the whole world changes when we know ourselves. We gentle it. The fruit of self-knowledge is kindness. Broken ourselves, we bind tenderly the wounds of the other. . . .
Cruelty is not the fruit of contemplation. Those who have touched the God who lives within themselves, with all their struggles, all their lack, see God everywhere and, most of all, in the helpless, fragile, pleading, frightened other. Contemplatives do not judge the heart of another by a scale on which they themselves could not be vindicated.
The pitfall of the religion of perfection is self-righteousness, that cancer of the soul that requires more of others than it demands of itself and so erodes its own fibre even more. It is an inner blindness that counts the sins of others but has no eye for itself. . . .
Real contemplatives receive the other with the open arms of God because they have come to know that for all their emptiness God has received them.
To be a contemplative it is necessary to take in without reservation those whom the world casts out because it is they who show us most clearly the face of the waiting God.
Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000), 70–71, 72–73.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on “The Sacred Wound.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Lily Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Lake Wale’s Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: We see the simplicity of these black and white photos: the lines of the leaves, the focus on just one flower, one stem, one patch of grass. Innocence, in its state of simplicity and grace, is not deluded by a desire for more; it accepts what is.
Story from Our Community:
I listen to children describe their hopes, dreams, and concerns for our Earth and their desire to be part of the change needed for a society of inclusion and love for all. I listen to their aching hearts while breathing in and taking in their worries, and breathing out and handing it all to a God. —Teresita L.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.