Illuminated Life

WISDOM: Across The Centuries by Joan Chittister

December 25, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Anthony said: “The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying: ‘You are insane because you are not like us.'” W   e so often think that those who refuse under any conditions to deny the essential goodness of life are mad.  Look at the suffering.  Look at the evil.  Be real, we say.  We are so often inclined to think that those who continue to see life where life seems to be empty and futile are, at best, foolish.  Be sensible, we say.  But in that case, we may be the ones who are mad.  The truth is that contemplation, the ability to see behind the obvious to the soul of life, is the ultimate sanity. [...]

WISDOM: Zeal by Joan Chittister

December 24, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba Joseph, as far as I am able I say my little office, I keep my little fasts, I pray my little prayers, I meditate a little, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?”  Then Abba Joseph stood up and stretched his hands toward Heaven.  His fingers became like ten torches of flame and he said to him, “Why not be turned completely into fire?” W   ho can see God and live?” the ancients asked.  It’s an important question.  While we look for marks of our spiritual progress, the measure may well be in the question: Who can see God and live the same dull, directionless, complacent way [...]

WISDOM: Yearning by Joan Chittister

December 23, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Nilus said: “Do not want things to turn out as they seem best to you but as God pleases.  Then you will be free of confusion and thankful in your prayer.” W   ho is there who hasn’t, at some time or other, wanted life to be different than it is?  Who of us has not wanted it ourselves?  We get tired of what we’re doing or where we are.  We look for better days somewhere else.  We want to do something different but, down deep, we don’t really know what it is.  All we know is that we yearn for what we do not have.  We feel the confusion.  We lack the gratitude for life of which the desert monastics speak.  We lack and groan through life.  And so we miss it.  Life ends [...]

WISDOM: Xenophilia—The Love of Strangers by Joan Chittister

December 22, 2015

From Illuminated Life Amma Sarah said: “If I pray to God that all people might be inspired because of me, I would find myself repentant at the door of every house.  I would rather pray that my heart be pure toward them than that I changed something in theirs.” I   t is not what others think of us; it is what we think of others that singles the contemplative out in a crowd.  Our role in life is not to convert others.  It’s not even to influence them.  It certainly is not to impress them.  Our goal in life is to convert ourselves from the pernicious agenda that is the self to an awareness of God’s goodness present in the other.  It is no idle prayer.  The beauty of the open soul is not easy to come by in [...]

WISDOM: Work by Joan Chittister

December 21, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One of the elders said: “I never wanted work which was useful to me but a loss to others.  For I have this expectation, that what helps the other is fruitful for me.” And Abba Theodore of Pherme said, “In these days many take their rest before God gives it to them.” I   n this society, work has become the way we make money, the way we enable ourselves to do what we would really prefer to do if we didn’t need to work.  No other approach to life, perhaps, explains so clearly what has really happened to the quality of the world around us than this.  If there is anything that measures spiritual depth in a work-oriented society, it is surely the [...]

WISDOM: Vision by Joan Chittister

December 20, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Zacharias had a vision.  He told his spiritual father, Carion the ascetic, about it.  Exasperated, Carion beat him and told him the vision came from demons.  Zacharias went to Abba Poemen to tell him about it.  Seeing his sincerity, Abba Poemen sent him on to a monk who was a mystic.  This monk knew all about the vision before Zacharias even told him and said it was indeed from God.  Then the mystic instructed him, “Now go back and submit yourself to your father.” T   he desert monastics are very clear: Vision is one thing; visions are another.  Visions are psychological phenomena that, in the end, may have nothing whatsoever to do with the way a [...]

WISDOM: Understanding by Joan Chittister

December 19, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Some disciples came to see Abba Poeman and said to him: “Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake?”  And the old man said to them: “Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.” U   nderstanding – compassion – is the foundation of a monastic lifestyle.  Without it there is no hope at all for developing a community out of strangers.  The Rule of Benedict is brimming with the concept: Monastics are not to bother the procurator of the monastery at undue times.  People are not here simply to meet our demands.  The doorkeeper is to [...]

WISDOM: Time by Joan Chittister

December 18, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light A brother came to see Abba Theodore and started to talk and inquire about things which  he himself had not tried yet.  The old man said to him: “You have not found a boat or put your gear into it,, and you haven’t even sailed, but you seem to have arrived in the city already.  Well, do your work first; then you will come to the point you are talking about now.” One of the obsessive concerns of contemporary society is speed.  Everything we produce we produce to go faster than the ones before it.  Planes go faster than the speed of sound, though no one cares.  Cars are sold for their capacity to go from zero to sixty miles an hour in seconds, as if anyone [...]

WISDOM: Silence by Joan Chittister

December 17, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One of the elders said, “Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation.” S   ilence is the lost art in a society made of noise.  Radios wake us up, and timers on TVs turn off the day-full of programs long after we have gone to sleep at night.  We have music in cars and elevators and office waiting rooms.  We have surround-sound that follows us from the living room to the kitchen to the upstairs bath.  We have public address hookups in every office building and large, loud, screaming sound systems mounted on street corners.  We exercise with [...]

WISDOM: Re-Creation by Joan Chittister

December 16, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Once two brothers went to visit an old monastic.  It was not the old man’s habit to eat every day.  When he saw the brothers, however, he welcomed them with joy and said: “Fasting has its own reward, but if you eat for the sake of love you satisfy two commandments, for you give up your own will and also fulfill the commandment to refresh others.” I   t’s not something that most of us like to admit, but the truth is that “fasting,” any disciplinary or dour approach to life – relentless concentration on work, duty, responsibilities, business, productivity – has its own rewards.  However difficult the work itself may seem to those [...]

WISDOM: Quest by Joan Chittister

December 15, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph: “Tell me how I can become a monastic.”  And Abba Joseph replied, “If you want to find rest here, and hereafter, say in every occasion, ‘Who am I?'” W   ho is there anywhere in the world who is not looking for something: for approval, for money, for a home, for a career, for success, for security, for happiness?  We are, by nature, spiritual foragers, seekers after grails.  We look constantly for laurels and trophies cast in the crystal of time or the stardust of eternity.  We are all on a quest for something.  The distinguishing questions are two: For what am I seeking, and who am I as a result of the [...]

WISDOM: Prayer by Joan Chittister

December 14, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Poemen said: “The nature of water is yielding, and that of a stone is hard.  Yet if you hang a bottle filled with water above the stone so that the water drips drop-by-drop, it will wear a hole in the stone.  In the same way the word of God is tender, and our heart is hard.  So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God. T   here is only one thing wrong with the traditional definition of prayer: it misrepresents God.  “Prayer,” the old teaching said, was “the raising of our hearts and minds to God.”  As if God were some regal, distant judge outside ourselves.  But science – with its new [...]

WISDOM: Openness by Joan Chittister

December 13, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light It was said about a disciple that he endured seventy weeks of fasting, eating only once a week.  He asked God about certain words in the Holy Scripture, but God did not answer.  Finally, he said to himself: “Look, I have put in this much effort, but I haven’t made any progress.  So I will go to see my brother and ask him.” When he had gone out, closed the door, and started off, an angel of God was sent to him and said, “Seventy weeks of fasting have not brought you near to God.  But now that you are humble enough to go to your brother, I have been sent to you to reveal the meaning of the words.”  Then the angel explained the meaning which the [...]

WISDOM: Nature by Joan Chittister

December 12, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light A philosopher asked Saint Anthony: “Father, how can you be enthusiastic when the comfort of books has been taken away from you?”  And Anthony replied: “My book, O Philosopher, is the nature of created things, and whenever I want to read the word of God, it is right in front of me.” W   here is God?” the catechism asked.  “God is everywhere,” the catechism answered.  The answer is often ignored, but the answer, if God is really God, is certainly true.  God is the stuff of the universe.  In everything created resides the energy, the life, the image, the nature of the creator. To know the creator, it is only necessary to study [...]

WISDOM: Metanoia by Joan Chittister

December 11, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One day Abba Arsenius was asking an old Egyptian man for advice.  There was someone who saw this and said to him: “Abba Arsenius, why is a person like you, who has such a great knowledge of Greek and Latin, asking a peasant like this about your thoughts?”  And Abba Arsenius replied, “Indeed, I have learned the knowledge of Latin and Greek, yet I have not learned even the alphabet of this peasant.” C   hanging the way we go about life is not all that difficult.  We all do it all the time.  We diet because we want to change the way we look.  We learn to ski or fish or bowl or play pinochle when we want to change the patterns of our lives.  We move [...]

WISDOM: Lectio by Joan Chittister

December 10, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One day some disciples came to see Abba Anthony.  In the midst of them was Abba Joseph.  Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the scriptures and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant.  Each one gave his opinion as he was able.  But to each one of them the old man said, “You have not understood it.”  Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and Abba Joseph replied, “I do not know.”  Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know.'” C   ontemplation is not a private devotion; it is a way of life. [...]

WISDOM: Kindness by Joan Chittister

December 9, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light 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. T   he desert monastics are clear: [...]

WISDOM: Justice by Joan Chittister

December 8, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba James said, “Just as a lamp lights up a dark room, so the fear of God, when it penetrates the heart, illuminates, teaching all the virtues and commandments of God.” T   here is a danger in the contemplative life.  The danger is that contemplation is often used to justify distance from the great questions of life.  Contemplation becomes an excuse to let the world go to rot.  It is a sad use of the contemplative life and, at base, a bogus one.  If contemplation is coming to see the world as God sees the world, then see it clearly we must.  If contemplation means to become immersed in the mind of God, then we must come to think beyond our own small [...]

WISDOM: Interiority by Joan Chittister

December 7, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Isidore of Pelusia said: “Living without speaking is better than speaking without living.  For a person who lives rightly helps us by silence, while one who talks too much annoys us.  If, however, words and life go hand in hand, it is the perfection of all philosophy.” I   t is a hurried and a noisy world in which we live.  It is not an Egyptian desert of the third century.  It is not a hermitage on a mountaintop.  We are surrounded, most of us, at all times by the schedules and deadlines, the crowds, and the distractions of a dense and demanding society. We are an increasingly extroverted society, called away from our private selves on every level of [...]

WISDOM: Humility by Joan Chittister

December 6, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Xanthias said, “A dog is better than I am because a dog also has love but, unlike I myself, the dog does not pass judgment.” Abba Sarmatas said: “I prefer a person who has sinned if he knows that he sinned and has repented, over a person who has not sinned and considers himself to be righteous.”   H umility and contemplation are the invisible twins of the spiritual life. One without the other is impossible. In the first place, there is no such thing as a contemplative life without the humility that takes us beyond the myth of our own grandeur to the cosmic grandeur of God.  In the second, once we really know the grandeur of God we get the rest [...]

WISDOM: Growth by Joan Chittister

December 5, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Mios was asked by a soldier whether God would forgive a sinner.  After instructing him at some length, the old man asked him: “Tell me, my dear, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?”  “Oh, no,” the soldier said.  “I would mend it and wear it again.”  And the old man said to him: “Well, if you care that much for your cloak, do you think God does not care for a creature?” E   nlightenment opens the soul to an awareness of the God-life everywhere, to the holiness of life, to the connectedness of the universe, to the realization of the Oneness of creation. It is a consciousness that makes morality and maturity [...]

WISDOM: Faith by Joan Chittister

December 4, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessariaon, said: When we were walking along the sea one day, I was thirsty, so I said to Abba Bessarion, “Abba, I am very thirsty.”  Then the old man prayed and said to me, “Then drink from the sea.”  And the water was sweet when I drank it.  So I poured it into a flask so that I would not be thirsty later.  Seeing this, the old man asked me, “Why are you doing that?”  And I answered, “So that I won’t be thirsty later on.”  Then the old man said, “God is here and God is everywhere.” F   aith is the gate, the goal, and the bedrock of the contemplative life. Faith is not [...]

WISDOM: Enlightenment by Joan Chittister

December 3, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning, there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God.   But after that, there is indescribable joy.  It is just like building a fire: at first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result.  Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.” T   he important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas – good guides as these may be – and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the [...]

WISDOM: Dailiness by Joan Chittister

December 2, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning O   ne of the most difficult, but most seasoning, elements of life is simply the fine art of getting up every morning, of doing what must be done if for no other reason than that it is our responsibility to do it. To face the elements of the day and keep on going takes a peculiar kind of courage. It is in dailiness that we prove our mettle. And it is not easy. The easy thing is to run away from life.  Anyone can do it, and everyone at one time or another wants to.  Living through the sterile and the fruitless cycles of life earns no medals, carries no honor.  The temptation is to put down the [...]

WISDOM: Community by Joan Chittister

December 1, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Cassian taught this: Abba John, abbot of a large monastery, went to Abba Paesius who had been living for forty years far off in the desert.  As John was very fond of Paesius and could therefore speak freely with him, he said to him, “What good have you done by living here in retreat for so long, and not being easily disturbed by anyone?”  Paesius replied, “Since I have lived in solitude, the sun has never seen me eating.”  Abba John said back to him, “As for me, since I have been living with others, it has never seen me angry.” S   olitude, a sometimes romanticized and often exaggerated element of the contemplative life, has its own [...]

WISDOM: Beauty by Joan Chittister

November 30, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One night bandits came to the hermitage of an old monastic and said: “We have come to take away everything in your cell.”  And the monastic said, “Take whatever you see, my sons.”  The bandits gathered up everything they found and went away.  But they left behind a little bag with silver candlesticks.  When the monastic saw it, he picked it up and ran after them, shouting, “Take these, take these.  You forgot them and they are the most beautiful of all.” W   hat may be most missing in this highly technological world of ours is beauty.  We value efficiency instead.  We want functionalism over art.  We create trash.  We bask in [...]

WISDOM: Awareness by Joan Chittister

November 29, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light A brother went to see Abba Moses in his hermitage at Scetis and begged him for a word.  And the old man said, “Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” W   hat is right in front of us we see least. We take the plants in the room for granted.  We pay no attention to the coming of night.  We miss the look of invitation on a neighbor’s face.  We see only ourselves in action and miss the cocoon around us.  As a result, we run the risk of coming out of every situation with no more than when we went into it. Learning to notice the obvious, the colors that touch our psyches, the shapes that vie for our attention, the looks on the [...]

MYSTICISM: Being Contemplative In The Midst Of Chaos by Joan Chittister

November 13, 2015

From Illuminated Life This book talks about your life – the one you fear is not spiritual because of its complexities and concerns.  Spirituality, you are certain, is the province of those who manage to escape from the pressures of life.  But if withdrawal is of the essence of the spiritual life, then whole generations of spiritual sages have been wrong.  This book is about qualities the world’s most ancient of seekers say are the cardinal components of a contemplative life.  And “escape,” you will notice, is not one of the elements of this long-standing spiritual alphabet.  The truly spiritual person, tradition teaches us, knows that spirituality is concerned with how to live a full life, not an empty one. [...]