The Doormats

Were I to love you with a perfect love,

laying my life before you,

in self-sacrifice;

would you understand me?

 

Prostrate at your feet,

ready to serve,

hoping you’ll open to my love;

would you shut the door?

 

When you gaze upon me,

in my simplicity,

do you see a human being;

or do you see a doormat?

 

Would you disarm,

and lay your power down;

or take it up,

and lay me lower?

 

Will you allow me to wash your feet,

surrender up your fears;

or will you trample me underfoot,

an obstacle to your ends?

 

I will be your doormat,

I would wash your feet—

nothing will be taken,

which isn’t freely given.

 

I will to love you with a perfect love,

laying my life before you.

Understand my actions—

I’m asking you to do the same.

 

~FS

June 19

Jesus Christ “proclaims as blessed those who mourn, but not those who do so for any human reason, as for the loss of some transitory good, but those who have Christian compunction, mourn their sorrows, and expiate their sins and even those of others.”

As for St John Cassian, he writes: “Therefore, apart from that sorrow which arises for the sake of saving penance, or from the desire of perfection, or the longing for what is to come, all [sadness] must be equally resisted, being worldly and pernicious, and quite excluded from our hearts.”

Thus, it is not a matter of abolishing every form of sadness, but only of the passion of sadness. Here again, putting an end to the passion does not mean putting an end to the function itself, but rather healing it, in order to allow it to recover its natural and normal use and to be exercised once again in healthy fashion.

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.3, p.57-58)

June 18

In order to attach himself to spiritual goods, man must first of all have become aware that there exists “another beauty, other riches, other pleasures that are superior,” “true riches that procure immortal delights”, and that there is no wealth superior or worthy of preference to God’s Kingdom and glory. But this awareness, as St John Climacus points out, is only possible through the experience of spiritual realities. Man can attain to this experience only when he stops living an utterly carnal life and unites himself to God through love and the practice of the commandments. Only “the taste of God,” as St John Climacus states in very concrete terms, allows man to ascertain (in comparison to divine goods) the scant value of sensual “goods.”

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.3, p.37)

June 17

Bodily asceticism does not only contribute to purifying the mind: it also hones it, making it lighter and more apt for all its proper spiritual functions. Fasting and vigils in particular have this effect. By purifying and refining the mind, bodily asceticism contributes to moving it towards contemplation. The suffering linked to this ascetic practice is merely the provisional condition for attaining to the delight in the good things of the Kingdom, which will infinitely compensate for this pain: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).”

~Dr Jean-Claude Larchet (Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses vol.2, p.271)

June 16

Saint Silouan makes a distinction between kinds of suffering, based on his own experience as he related it in his story of the fish-bone and the headaches. Renos Papadopoulos applies this teaching to his own practice in working with refugees, by adapting St. Silouan’s recognition of this distinction into an epistemological distinction as to the variety of way’s one can conceptualize suffering. Renos explains that we as care-givers should recognize the fact that suffering is not always “something we should get rid of” but that it can have important and life-changing meaning for the person undergoing it.

Renos says that we can look at suffering, or adversity, which we encounter in our lives as potentially positive, rather than seeing it entirely negatively, which is often how the helping professions approach suffering. Renos encourages us, based on the teaching of Saint Silouan, to seek out God’s will in our suffering, because this can expand our perspective on adversity. By understanding God’s love for us and His will for us, which is always a will for our good, this can mitigate our negative feelings towards suffering and open the door for us to trust more in the process and outcome deriving from adversity, and oftentimes this can lead us to greater strength and endurance in living through suffering.

Does suffering produce endurance, as St Paul writes, or does it crush us? How we interpret suffering makes a significant difference in how we approach it in our own lives, as well as how we approach those we are helping through their own responses to adversity. The outcome of our view on suffering can make the difference, as Renos says, in whether our response becomes pathological or merely a reaction according to ordinary human distress.

Man unfortunately uses his freedom, his free will, to distance himself from God, and then adversity and suffering often further distances him from God, because of man’s negative response to adversity, and this develops into a traumatic response. But this is not always and entirely the case. Renos explains that we need to recognize the possibility however, of positive responses to adversity. In his work with refugees he sees, in every case, resilient responses and the development of new positive traits occurring within these people along with negative responses; all of these occurring simultaneously and side-by-side. If we recognize this truth we can work together with our care-recipients to discover and foster these positive responses to help them achieve greater strength and health however, by failing to recognize this possibility we can miss an important opportunity in helping people who have been through adversity.

Viewing trauma only in the typical way, as needing cure and relief, but with no other intrinsic value, causes care-givers to take actions to remedy the ‘trauma’ that are “ineffective at best, or even detrimental (ed. Welker 146).” However, by seeking God’s will and trusting that He has a plan for us in all cases, Renos explains that we can seek and access greater meaning from our suffering, and draw nearer to God as well.

I think it is important to look for each individual’s strengths and help create conditions for these strengths to be activated as we help others work through their responses to the inevitable sufferings of their lives. Even by simply making these strengths apparent to the one who is suffering, or simply noting the possibility that strengths do exist within them, can be of great benefit to the one who may be lost in the despair and weakness of their situation.

Renos sees the Spirit having a dimension and power that can transform “an impossibly bleak situation devoid of hope and realistic resolution [into] an unexpected epiphany, indeed, the transformative power of the cross that enables Christ to ‘overcome death by death’ (ed. Welker 144-145). Saint Silouan’s teaching on suffering opens us to understand that suffering isn’t always negative. Based on this concept Renos developed the ‘Adversity Grid’ to illustrate the complexity in human responses to suffering, showing that responses can be neutral or even positive in reaction to adverse events.

In applying St Silouan’s teaching to ‘keep thy mind in hell and despair not’ Renos describes how this can help us recognize both the importance of ‘hellish’ experiences and also that these experiences can have positive effects (ed. Welker 151), that hell-states can be meaningful, and that understanding them in this way can facilitate positive transformation (153) and even that these hell-states can be the impetus for the growth of new positive traits within us that otherwise wouldn’t have been born (155).

As care-givers we can apply these teachings and insights in order to help those we serve to see suffering in another way, and encourage them to use their experiences with adversity in positive ways that can be transformational and healing. As Renos writes: “St Silouan’s dictum…encourages us not only not to run away from the excruciatingness of these hell situations but also to trust that this very persistent focus on the awfulness of the situation will activate a certain process of transcendence that will bring about a radical transformation, a paradigmatic shift, resulting in a new epistemology that will enable access to healing from sources and in ways that our previous state of being could not even have registered before (ed. Welker 154).”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Renos Papadopoulos (2018). “Compliance and Resistance: the Psychological Perspective.”

Papadopoulos, R.K. “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not: implications for psychosocial work with survivors of political violence.” The Spirit in Creation and New Creation. Michael Welker, Ed. Eerdmans Publishing. 2016.

 

~FS

The Love of Being Hated

Lately, I’ve been considering giving up the appearance of being smart. I’m not sure I’m courageous enough to give up appearances though. Everyone seems to admire smart people, give them more respect, or at least take them more seriously. And fear keeps me doing the things that get me lovin’, and keeps me from doing the things that get me ridiculed. I especially learned how to toe this line in college. Fear is an excellent headmaster which keeps us students saying the right things.

But faith teaches me other things, and if I’m honest—better things. I can’t explain it but a life of simple faith yields an abundant life of simple joys. I’m considering that this might actually be a lot better than trying to have others like me because I’m clever, or knowledgeable—and certainly better than expending energy towards avoiding or deflecting criticism, and derision, aimed at my simplicity.

Not too long ago a client was extremely angry towards me—screaming, and violently gesturing, he accused me of being a liar and a thief. It seemed a very unfair accusation but I decided to keep silent, and refrained from defending myself further against his railings. As it turns out though, he did me a great service, by helping me gain a measure of freedom over myself.

My good name, my integrity, my sense of being a good person—all of this was being called into question by his anger and vociferous attack. There were defenses to be made, I could have fought back with arguments, and explanations, but silence worked a better reward within my soul. I discovered that his hatred towards me in that situation only mattered to me if I was attached to his opinion of me. Otherwise, I was free.

He liberated me from my fear of losing face, and of being seen in a bad light. He appeared to be an enemy coming to take something away from me, but he unsuspectingly gave me a gift instead. He gave me an opportunity to forget myself, and even more, an opportunity to care about him in spite of this attack. I even saw an opportunity to love him, if I dared, and consider him a brother.

Now, I imagine this freedom in other areas of my life, especially the areas that are most important to me. What if I were to be called an idiot for my faith—a fool—or a simpleton for believing in Christ? How liberating that could be!!! Well, I’m sure there is no shortage of people happy to tell me this.

I have loved to be loved. However, might it not be more advantageous to love to be hated? Perhaps this is a doorway to complete freedom. But am I courageous enough to step through this door?

 

~FS

Woman Power

It has been said that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” There is no greater power given humanity than a woman’s power to bring forth another human into this world. This is an awesome power and one that requires an awesome responsibility on the part of every woman. Women are empowered with the responsibility of life itself.

Therefore, we must appeal to every woman to carefully consider her greatness with a clarity of mind, so as to recognize her great responsibility, and to protect herself from the lies of our current generation, which would try to convince her that she is merely a collection of choices, an individual with no significance beyond her personal desires.

No, every woman is much more important than this; and owes it to herself, and all of humanity, to believe that she is more than this, and to fight against the forces that would reduce her true stature, and that would substitute her true nobility with a false empowerment.

These forces in the world tell her that it is more important to grovel for the right to kill an innocent unborn child, than it is to rise up and defend the life that she bears within her. She is told it is more important to do only what she wants, rather than consider others, whom she could love, and who the world may need someday.

Woman is made to be selfless in her love—admirable and heroic—but these forces would rather keep her small, like a little child fighting for her own way. But no woman should be content to remain as such a little child, but rather must desire to mature into adulthood, becoming the powerful, loving and giving woman that she knows herself to be, that she can be, that we need her to be.

Women’s true power is being subverted by an artificial, and almost comical power. It would be almost funny, if the results weren’t so terribly sad. So many, many lives lost. Women’s true power, the power of life, is being subverted by the power of death, and this is a tragedy from which we all are victims.

Women. How you define yourselves is crucially important. You know what you are—givers, not takers of life. You possess a great power, bear it responsibly, and teach the whole world the true meaning of love. Inspire us, please, by your compassion.

~FS