Today, we’ll spend a couple of moments looking at ourselves from the inside out in terms of trying to become a healing presence to others, to give them strength and to give them hope. Asking the question, “What is it—what are some of the things inside me that simply clog me from being this conduit of fire for other people?” And of course there are many things. I would submit that very near the top of the list in me and probably in you is judgmentalism. Judging in our minds, between our earlobes, other people.
So, I’ll begin with a quote from Abba Poemen, said to Abba Joseph, “Tell me how to become a monk.”
Abba Joseph responded, “If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say ‘Who am I?’ and do not judge anyone.” How to become a monk. How to become a human being. Say, “Who am I?” Who we are, a creature. We’re a creature of God. And it was interesting, he said, “And do not judge anyone.”
A while ago, we had a guest speaker at St. Vladimir’s, a priest-monk from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai. And he was asked to come in and speak. And we had quite a large audience for him. And he was the most delightful, elderly elder, who had to be translated and spoke candidly, without notes, to us. Now for me, the question is, “Okay, we invite this man in; he’s had these many years—I don’t know how many, but over forty years of experience as a priest-monk at St. Catherine’s. And given this opportunity at St. Vladimir’s, what is it he would choose to say?”
And just in his manner—there was a large podium that he spoke from with a microphone, and he would actually leave the podium and come out in front and bend his knees and laugh and giggle and almost be playful in his presentation. Much of his talk came from anecdotes and stories, Desert Father stories. But the theme from stem to stern, from beginning to end—the theme was judgmentalism. He spoke and spoke and spoke almost exclusively about not judging others, about concentrating on our thoughts as prime for the Christian faith. And we would say for this podcast, what is it that I want to deal with to become better, a better healing presence for the Lord?
One time my wife said to me—in a candid moment, she said, “Al, I’d like to spend one day inside your head.”
Now I don’t—it was early in our marriage, very early, and I think she saw me as this younger man who lived this life of I don’t know what, excitement and accomplishment and whatever else she was seeing at the—she learned as life went on. But at that point, she had sort of a honeymoon view of her husband.
“I would like to spend one day inside your head.”
And I said to her, “Honey, I love you too much to ever allow anything like that. Inside my head is a jungle. There are alligators and boa constrictors and darkness and midnight and all kinds of vile things inside my head.” And that’s true. It was true then, and it is true now.
And if there were such thing as a video of the inside of my head that could be projected for a day, an awake day, eighteen hours or something, and then take out clips of it, it would be—I wouldn’t want to watch it. I would not want to watch it. My only response would be, “Lord, have mercy.” That’s the real me, that’s what goes on in my head through the day, and I can only bow my knees and bow my head and acknowledge that, as we say, I am the greatest of sinners. And that’s true.
And I don’t doubt it’s true for you too. Because we’re all human, and we all do tend to judge others. We just do that, no matter where we are. In church, we judge others in terms of all kinds of characteristics and ways and disagreements with the way we think and what we think they think of us and on and on and on and on.
So one of the questions is, “So, that’s it; what can we do about that?”
And I’m going to play a song. Song lifts us into a different realm, almost into a realm of incense, into a realm of a different kind of mystery. So we’ll listen for a moment.
A Helper and a Protector has become salvation to me.
This is my God, I will glorify Him.
God of my fathers, I will exalt Him for in glory was He glorified.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, have mercy on me.
Where we turn: We turn to our helper and our protector. Sung in that beautiful Lenten mode. And in that sense, in these terms, we could look at Lent as the entire year. We live Lentenly. We live in repentance.
Is it true that for us, the heart of the matter is our thoughts? Yes! Our interior castle? Yes! Is it true that all our deeds and behaviors follow from thoughts? Yes, yes, yes! That’s what the theme of the Desert Fathers particularly, that we watch our thoughts, we can try to control our thoughts, we surrender our thoughts. Because that’s where the heart of our behaviors really begin. They begin and end with our thoughts. So behaviors are simply an expression of what’s come before.
Another quote from the wisdom of the desert. “An elder said: Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste”—What if we’re not chaste? It says, “Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste, for if you do, you are violating the law as much as he is.” He or she. “For [the Lord] who said thou shalt not fornicate also said thou shalt not judge.”
Now, in this example of the Desert Fathers, it’s my mind judging a fornicator, but it could be any sinful behavior. And again, we all sin. And judging someone else who is domineering or abusive or apparently lying or whatever the behavior might be, it is not for me to judge that person. Of course, we don’t tolerate abusive behaviors. But we don’t judge persons, and that’s the cutting edge.
“A certain brother,” in the Desert Fathers, “sinned, and the priest commanded him to leave the church.” Get out of here. But it is said that “Bessarion rose up and went out with him, saying, ‘I too am a sinful man.’” That is to say, in that example from the Desert Fathers, it was clear to Bessarion that he was told to leave the church because he sinned, and Bessarion left as well in identity and in union with the sinner, being a fellow sinner. If a sinner must leave church, then I too who am a sinner must leave church, as well. Why? Because we’re all in this together.
So spending a day inside my head or your head especially as we think of others would not be a very delightful or even virtuous experience.
I’ll end this podcast where I began, with re-quoting Abba Poemen and Abba Joseph, simply because it tells us how we can become more fire, more of a healing presence, more of a power, the Lord’s power, letting the Lord work through us on this earth. Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph, “Tell me how to become a better monk.” And we might say, “Tell me how to become a better human. How to become a better vehicle on this earth, vehicle for grace.”
And, Abba Joseph said, “If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say ‘Who am I?’ and do not judge anyone.”
“Who am I?” “‘Who am I?’ and do not judge anyone.”