“Put his head on my knees”

By sister alies therese

You might remember that I am fond of desert monastics for both inspiration and correction. Having recently left the hospital and rehab after five long months, I’m back home hoping to share with you a little nourishment.

There are all sorts of deserts that these stories might be applied to and hospitals, nursing homes, rehab, jails are among a few. Don’t forget the homebound.

Sister alies therese

Desert monastic stories might be ‘true’ or not … in any case, the messages they bring are well worth at least devotional reading. Let’s consider two for ‘correction’ and one for inspiration.

“Abba Zosimas used to say: Take away the thoughts and no one can become holy. One who avoids the beneficial temptations is avoiding eternal life. It is like I always say: inasmuch as God is good, God has given us to profit from everything. However, we become attached and misuse God’s gifts, and so we turn these very same good gifts to destruction through our evil choice and are therefore harmed.”

I learned a lot from being so sick and I offer this reflection for those of our readers who are. Even when you are sick you can profit. Even when you have lost a good deal of control over your life, you can still profit. Bitter or better? You still choose. So, when opportunities come our way to be strengthened by adversity … let’s choose God for profit. This is often worked out by how one interacts with nurses, doctors and staff. Learning to listen beyond what we think is a real challenge. Learning to give up, give in and trust strengthens our resolve to love God alone.

What we value is often brought out when we are ill or restrained. I thought many times about how fortunate I was to be where I was (five hospitals and rehab). Would I die? Would I live? Who knew? Many medics were sure of the former (a scary time), but I kept trying to choose the latter.

Mentally I was stretched so my values got mixed up. Maybe I lost my temper, got angry? Or maybe I didn’t eat or I ate everything I could find? Our values come into bright relief when we are not in charge. Would seem that the things we have identify those values … but really it is who we are (in Jesus) that says a whole lot more.

“An old man said: If you have lost gold or silver, you can find something in place of what you lost. However, if you lose time you cannot replace what you lost.” Can we profit then from everything God sends … even those things we are sure are so important? What do we value? What do we share? What do we learn from difficulties?

Finally, I love a story about judgment and how we treat each other. I saw more than I would have liked of people left behind, uncaring professionals, and wrestling with my foibles. Judging others or ourselves is a slippery slope and one who has come to love God has learned this truth.

“Some old men came to Abba Poemen and said: Tell us, when we see brothers/sisters dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake? The old man said to them, ‘Actually if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.’”

I can be quick to judge what is right or wrong in any given situation and often I am completely off base. The tenderness of this story reminds me that we are flesh, and we are bound to fail, be weak and give in to ourselves. But here is a brother who understands this well and holds in his hands, as God does with us, the very flesh that this youngest or elder seems to be withholding. Oh no, God gives to His beloved in sleep the Psalmist reminds us and the beauty of this act reminds me to treat others and myself as God would have it. It is the heart of course that makes our awesome God smile and that is a treasure we can never lose and can always profit from. At the core of this heart, we develop that love that loved us first.
Maybe this anonymous little poem helps when we try to explain how great that love is. In A Nonny Mouse Writes Again we hear: “I know you little, I love you lots, my love for you would fill ten pots, fifteen buckets, sixteen cans, three teacups and four dishpans.”

What we learn to profit from will fill all that is around us and we become willing and able to put that love everywhere. So, when you encounter someone ill or left behind, offer them your hands and your knees, and let them rest. And when fear overcomes you, remember that love drives it out. The Russian author Ivan Turgenev in The Sparrow reminds us: “Love, I felt, more than ever, is stronger than death and the fear of death.” Rest, trusting that you are loved and cherished … and pass it on!

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)