Archive for the ‘Daily Reading’ Category

True Poverty

Desert Raven

“Once Abba Arsenius fell ill in Scetis and in this state he needed just one coin. He could not find one so he accepted one as a gift from someone else, and he said, ‘I thank you, God, that for your name’s sake you have made me worthy to come to this pass, that I should have to beg.'”

It is not poverty of the spirit or of the person that is meant here, but coming to a place in our lives when we are able to receive help when we need it. Arsenius had learned to be open to God through ascetic life in the desert but not through another’s care. He expresses gratitude that he now is able to accept God through other people.

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Angels climb
Jacob’s ladder
at Bath Abbey

Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to the place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it [or “beside him”] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Afterwards, Jacob names the place, Bethel, meaning “house of God.” Genesis 28:10–19

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The reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for July 15:

Care of the sick must rank before and above everything, so that they may truly be served as Christ Himself, for He said: I was sick and you visited me (Matthew 25.36) and, Whatever you did for one of these who are least, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). But let the sick themselves consider that they are served out of honor for God, and they are not to sadden their brothers who serve them with superfluous demands. Yet they are to be patiently borne, because from such as these a more abundant reward is acquired. The abbot shall therefore exercise the greatest care that they not suffer any neglect.

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Daily Reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for July 11:

This vice especially
is to be cut out of the monastery by the roots.
Let no one presume to give or receive anything
without the Abbot’s leave,
or to have anything as his own —
anything whatever,
whether book or tablets or pen or whatever it may be —
since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills
at their own disposal;
but for all their necessities
let them look to the Father of the monastery.
And let it be unlawful to have anything
which the Abbot has not given or allowed.
Let all things be common to all,
as it is written (Acts 4:32),
and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.

But if anyone is caught indulging in this most wicked vice,
let him be admonished once and a second time.
If he fails to amend,
let him undergo punishment.

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Blue Dragonfly

 From Daily Reading with the Desert Fathers:

“Abba Marcarius said, ‘Walking one day in the desert, I found the skull of a dead man lying on the ground. As I was moving it with my stick, the skull spoke to me. I said to it, ‘Who are you?’ The skull replied, ‘I was the high priest of the idols and of the pagans who dwelt in this place; but you are Macarius, the Spirit-bearer. Whenever you take pity on those who are in torment and pray for them they feel a little respite.’

The old man said to him, ‘What is this alleviation and what is this torment?’ He said to him, ‘As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us. We are standing in the midst of the fire from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the others face a little; such is our respite.’”

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Beehive huts on Skellig Michael
where warrior monks lived in the
eighth century to protect mainland 
Ireland from Viking invasions.

From Daily Readings with The Desert Fathers:

It is clear to all who dwell in Egypt that it is through the monks that the world is kept in being and that through them also human life is preserved and honored by God . . . There is no town or village in Egypt that is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls, and all the people depend on the prayers of the monks as if on God himself.

Palladius said, “One day when I was suffering from boredom I went to abba Macarius and said, ‘What shall I do? My thoughts afflict me, saying, you are not making any progress, go away from here.” He said to me, ‘Tell them, for Christ’s said, I am guarding the walls.'”

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Small Steps

Penny Carothers

The following essay was written by Penny Carothers, social justice editor for the Burnside Writer’s Collective:

To those from the West, Calcutta, India, assaults your sense and can steal your hope. Decaying buildings slant this way and that over lean-to dwellings that shelter families who have fled the countryside in hope of a better life. Like millions before them, they find little more than squalor.

At home it’s easy to forget the desperation — both theirs and mine. In many ways, I must forget in order to go on. When I have the stomach to remember, I push back hopelessness. But I can’t forget their faces.

Calcutta market

Asa and Jebodah are sisters, about twelve and thirteen. Their father is gone, and their mother provides for them by selling herself at the temple of Kali, goddess of destruction. They live on a mat on a four-lane street, a few blocks from Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. They are covered in soot. They ask us for powder for their hair, and we buy it because they deserve to feel beautiful, if only for a day. Still, questions assault me constantly: How can I make a difference in a city that has so much need?

One day in Calcutta, a friend and I went out to distribute toys and clothing to the hungry and often hopeless children on the street. We stepped past the sewer and tentatively approached the lean-tos, our offerings in sweaty hands. And they came, slowly at first. As they received their gifts, we saw delight in their faces and we smiled. But the moment lasted only seconds. Before we knew it, desperate hands had wrested our gifts from us, and in the violence of the moment we let go and fell back into the gutter. And I could think only one thing: What have we accomplished, really?

Calcutta children

In my disillusionment I saw them. Asa and Jebodah entered the filth to take our hands. They pulled us away and took us, dazed, to the water pump. And then they bent down and began to wash the grime off our feet. Beside me, my friend repeated over and over, “They are washing our feet.”

Now back home, I have lost the urgency. I can ignore the people who sit on the sidewalks and the overpasses because the desperation is hidden; I don’t have to engage it. I don’t even have to know my neighbors. Some days, I remember Calcutta’s greatest lesson: I need my neighbors — these girls, these men I walk past with a nod — just as much as they need my help.

Today, as I remember these girls, I remember my own need. I remember the beauty of their gift to us, but no less the incomprehensibility of their lives. On good days, I risk praying for the strength to step into the pain of the world with an open heart. Taking small steps, if need be, but moving — yes, into confusion and discomfort — but also moving toward them and toward hope.

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Albert Herbert, Elijah fed by ravens
in the desert, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Elijah has been considered the model of Christian monasticism since the first monks and nuns lived in the desert, either alone or in communities. In the old testament story, God orders Elijah to live in the desert and be fed by ravens.

God is angry with Ahab, king of the Israelites, for killing his priests. He sends Elijah to tell Ahab that Israel will have no dew or rainfall for three and a half years. Then the Lord says to Elijah:

“Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan river. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.

So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after awhile the brook dried up and there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

Elijah fed by ravens, artist unknown.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.’ So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, ‘Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?’ As she was going to get it, he called to her, ‘Bring me a bite of bread, too.’

But she said, ‘I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.’

But Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!’

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” — 1 Kings 17:1-15

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True Learning

“Abba Anthony said, ‘Fear not this goodness as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas . . . But the city of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation . . . The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only the human mind.'” — Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same spirit; to another faith by the same spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the same spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same spirit works all these things.” — 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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Baking Bread

Ancient Greek figurine of woman kneading bread
“Abba Theodore of Enaton said, ‘When I was young, I lived in the desert. One day I went to the bakery to make two loaves, and there I found a brother also wanting to make bread, but there was no one to help him. So I put mine on one side to lend him a hand. When the work was done, another brother came, and again I lent him a hand in cooking his food. Then a third came, and I did the same; and similarly one after the other, I baked for each of those who came. I made six batches. Later I made my own two loaves, since no one else came.'”

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