In a previous post I mentioned and commented on a very fine book recently published called, The Shallows. A book that puts forth the provocative proposition that the ‘medium’, or the technological apparatus that are used to transmit information to us today, are not, as some people have mistakenly thought – neutral. But evidence now strongly suggests that the physiological, and neurological structures and synapses within our brains are being affected in a negative way through an impassioned and almost mechanical zombie like addiction toward our machines which through continued and increased use, render us incapable of deep, consistent, non-frenzied and contemplative thinking. In some ways we can be likened to a kettle full of frogs in water. Sitting on a stove, with the burner turned on very low. At first we are comfortable, but slowly, ever so slowly, and quite imperceptibly, the water temp rises, and then boils, without the frogs even knowing it’s happening. So goes our frenzied and increasing love affair with 24/7/365 connectedness.
“So what are we to do?” “What can we do?”
Do what we did. My three sons, a good friend, and I got ‘wild and crazy’. We unplugged. Disconnected. Powered down. Then we made a 90 minute pilgrimage south towards our local
casino Monastery – Holy Dormition Orthodox Monastery in Rives Junction MI. Within 90 short minutes an escape hatch from the shallows was found, a deep pool of refreshment appeared. The church from its very earliest days has been blessed, protected and guided by holy men and women who, in one sense, ‘give up their lives’, in order that they may gain something far more valuable: their real life, true life, and eternal life, the very Kingdom of Heaven, here and now. If Churches are ‘hospitals’ then most truly and certainly, monasteries are the ’emergency rooms’, sacred and holy places of triage that heal our souls and bodies, ‘thin’ places that remove us from the ways of this world, so that pilgrims, monks and nuns, can attain to something that all of us are called to seek and receive: Holy communion, a union with the Trinity, Theosis.
This rhythm of life, even for 24 hours is like an electric shock, a spiritual defibrillator, that jump starts the sleeping inner man, and rouses our latent slumbering senses of sight, smell, sound, and reset us, and take us back to their proper levels of heightened awareness. We know that what we are doing is very ‘different’. But int the end, we also know that it is very right. To enter a monastery is to stand in a place that has not fled the world, but on the contrary, it is a place that engages the cosmos, counters the universe, it is the very place where war is waged, the battle for eternity and souls, and the world takes place here. For make no mistake, dragons and demons, and spiritual warfare occur in these often idyllic places. Warrior monks and nuns, pray, fast, work, love, show hospitality, serve, and pray some more… waging holy war through fervent prayer for the sake of the world and those of us in it.
While you and I sleep, the monks and nuns, are awake and praying. They walk the line, they stand their post in the midnight hours, and they remember us – always and ever – remembering us.
We escaped the Shallows, we awakened before the dawn, no TV, no smart phone, no Twitter check, we simply prayed in darkness with the light of candles illuminating our senses. We dove out into the ‘deep end of the pool’, to a place where our vision saw holy icons that are kissed and reverenced for they are the image Christ etched in the lives of our family, our loved ones. To a place where our sense of smell was given a savor of the fragrance of Isaiah 6, of Revelation 7 and 21, the incense on earth, of an incense from above, a whiff of the fragrance of heaven. To a place where there are no ‘links’, hyper-texts, hyper-links, or Tweets, only the sight of burning beeswax, and the sweet smell of fragrant honey which they leave behind as they burn in passionless steadiness.
In the end, our culture may soon realize, as all cultures eventually do, that monasteries, are the very oases and havens of cultural and physical sanity and salvation. As in ages past, the monastery becomes, and in fact is, the Holy Ark of Noah, the vessel of salvation, and oasis of refreshment in a world that is starving, longing and thirsting for God in a land of shallow wells.
The innermost spiritual sense of Orthodox Monasticism is revealed in joyful mourning. This paradoxical phrase denotes a spiritual state in which a monk in his prayer grieves for the sins of the world and at the same time experiences the regenerating spiritual joy of Christ’s forgiveness and resurrection. A monk dies in order to live, he forgets himself in order to find his real self in God, he becomes ignorant of worldly knowledge in order to attain real spiritual wisdom which is given only to the humble ones.
With the development of monasticism in the Church there appeared a peculiar way of life, which however did not proclaim a new morality. The Church does not have one set of moral rules for the laity and another for monks, nor does it divide the faithful into classes according to their obligations towards God. The Christian life is the same for everyone. All Christians have in common that “their being and name is from Christ”. This means that the true Christian must ground his life and conduct in Christ, something which is hard to achieve in the world.
What is difficult in the world is approached with dedication in the monastic life. In his spiritual life the monk simply tries to do what every Christian should try to do: to live according to God’s commandments. The fundamental principles of monasticism are not different from those of the lives of all the faithful. This is especially apparent in the history of the early Church, before monasticism appeared.