Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saying of the Desert Christians: Abba Ammonas


Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" (Mt. 7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)

Some Thoughts:

The concepts of ego and self-esteem were unknown in the ancient world. For that matter they were unknown until comparatively recently. The concept of self-will, however, has been with us since the get go. After all, God did create us with free will and so humanity has always struggled between one's own will and the will of another. Especially between one's own will and the will of God.

I dunno why the ancients and the Great Saints of Yore, write so gloomily of stripping down, leaving everything behind or, later on in Christian history, the purgative way. It's all rather dark, gloomy language or so I find it. I guess it worked for them. As for me, I am as much a part of my culture as the next person and I like it all a bit brighter.

Our society has set up what I believe to be a false dichotomy between self-fulfillment and giving it all up for God. It is presented to us as an either/or when it is really, as so often is the case with the things of God, a both/and. The reason I say this is based in my understanding of Christian vocation. Here goes.

There is only one Christian vocation. All Christians are called to the exact same thing: to know, love and enjoy God and to be known, loved an enjoyed by God. Each of us may be called to different expressions of that one vocation, Each and every vocation is as equally important and valid as the next and none of them rank higher than another, no matter what fancy titles. The fancy titles are only used because we humans like to slap labels.

The odd thing about responding to God's unique call to each of us is that we may think we have to give up, lose out, be deprived of this, that or the other. Mostly especially we may fear the loss of ourselves. But the thing is, as it so often is, God's wisdom seems like idiocy to us. The fact is we lose nothing. The fact is, we gain. What we discover, as we do the work of stripping off everything that is inconsistent with God's will for us, that we discover who we really are. We discover that person God created us to be. can we take the risk of giving up who we thought we were for the sake of the person God knows?

Here's what surprised me: the brighter bit has been there all along. It is one of the great paradoxes of the New Testament: "Those who lose their lives, gain it."


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