Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Life Together 2


Abba Antony said, "Our life and our death are with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained our God; but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ."

Some thoughts:

There is a constant theme in the Sayings that we have to earn God. That we work to be worthy of God. And of course, they took that to extremes, sometimes. Of course, we in our day emphasize that God's grace is a gift, freely given. And of course there are those who take that to extremes also.

But there is a truth in the middle I think. Yes, grace is a gift but that doesn't then give us license to do any tom fool thing we want. The free gift of God's grace is best received with gratitude and humility, that sense that we can never really deserve it. Which is hard for those of us born and raised in the USA with that strong work ethic that we have to earn everything. Yet the Great Saints of Yore have left us a legacy of spiritual disciplines. A harsh word, discipline. I prefer to think of ascesis as a gesture of love we offer to God. A recognition of the fact that in any relationship of love there is that which depletes and drains the love and there is that which enriches and cherishes the love. That is what I think is the middle way between these 2 extremes.

Something else that interests me in this Saying is the issue of one's responsibility about scandalizing another and its consequences. Once again, as a product of the USA and especially all that emphasis on recovery from abuse work we did in the 80s and 90s, I think people should be responsible for their own stuff and if they are scandalized, well too bad because obviously they are sufficiently ill-informed otherwise they would not be.

The more recovery work I did, the less compassionate this approach seems. And it does run counter to things Jesus said. But I confess I find it hard to get this recovery work ethic out of my mind. One reason as that for most of my life, I was never able to manage my depressive symptoms because I seldom experienced any relief from stress which just kept on triggering depressive episodes. When a person is in a constant survival mode, too exhausted to do anything except the merest to stay alive, one scandalizes a lot of people. My fellow Christians fell into the Enemy's snare as they judged, ridiculed and shunned me. How gratefully I received the recovery work ethic that it was all their fault and none of mine.

Since those days I have come a very long way in learning to managing my symptoms. I was granted disability status and was rescued from the very worst stressor of them all: the American workplace. And I find I am still a scandal to some, all without knowing it. I can no longer employ the convenient excuse that if they were to walk a mile in my shoes, they would know what it is like to live with uncontrollable depression. My depression is controllable now. I must take responsibility for my thoughts, words and deeds.


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