Small gestures that save the world

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Photo by Andrei.

 

I read once that people have done experiments with flowers. They researched how flowers respond to love. Apparently, when the plants “hear” nice words and probably good vibrations, they develop more fully and more beautifully than when they are not given attention. But one does not need to consider flowers. It is sufficient to look at children. Surround them with conflicts, and they will often grow with insecurities. They will not trust those around them, and they may often not trust themselves. Or pressure them to achieve success, give them the impression that their worth depends on their professional achievements, and they may often be unable to genuinely relate to themselves or to other human beings.

Love them, and somehow they will be well. In love, they experience something: they discover themselves in relationship with others and see how their worth is not in achieving something for themselves, but it rather flows continually from the relationships they have.

I think there is a sense of freedom that surrounds people who have been loved. They have already “achieved” what is “priceless”: a freely given love which they have experienced without having done anything to deserve it. It’s not that they no longer work. They do, but they do it in freedom, in manifesting what they already are: co-creators of their world. But they are not the masters of this world. While responsible for it, the world does not begin and end with them. They know love already precedes them. And, to the best of their abilities, they give way to it, so they allow it to manifest in them as well.

What am I then doing when I do not love? I contribute to the taste of this bitter world, giving me the “opportunity” to feel superior when I complain about it. And doing so I lose me. I become the mighty judge, in his ivory tower, looking upon the world and being dissatisfied with it. I am utterly alone, for there is no connection that deserves me. I am deprived of love by my own doing. I contemplate the beauty of my world, the beautiful ivory tower that is adorned with my perceived virtues: one would rightly call this place hell. For my “virtues” that “stink before the Lord,” as the main character from the movie The Island says, blind me from the fact that everything good that is manifested in me precedes me and it cannot be achieved by me. There is no love when there is only one. One in one’s ivory tower has already separated oneself from the world, and so from life.

So “love your children,” I would say, but I know that forced love is not love. “Give yourself up,” I would say, but I know that imposing dogmas on another or oneself ends up in transforming our world in ivory towers. But still, even if a nice gesture may not come from me naturally, I would hope I would still do it. The memory of a small candy given to a child without any accompanying lesson may stop him or her from who knows what terrible act in the future. Dostoevsky is a master in portraying this: the small gestures one receives in one’s life, gestures that stem from love and which remain with one as a beacon of light in darkness.

I have mentioned this paragraph in the past, but I feel as I need to do it here as well. It comes from the ending of the Brothers Karamazov:

No matter how wicked we become–which, God grant, we may never be–when we recall how we buried Ilyusha, how we loved him in these last days, and we talked together by this stone with such closeness and affection, then even the cruelest and most cynical among us–if such there be–will not dare to mock the kindness and goodness of this moment! Moreover, that memory alone, perhaps, will restrain that person from some great wickedness, and he will think about it and will say, ‘Yes, I was good then, I was brave and honorable.’ He may still ridicule it inwardly–that doesn’t matter, people often make fun of what is kind and good; that’s only frivolity–but I assure you, boys, that even as he mocks he will immediately say in his heart, ‘No, I was wrong to mock, because one should not make fun of that!'”

The small gestures that save the world.

Christ is risen!… Now… what?

Immigrant on Earth

 

Today is the Sunday of the Resurrection for Orthodox Christians. It comes at the end of the Holy Week, the most beautiful period of the entire year. Its beauty stems precisely from the Sunday that comes at its end, because you live every moment in view of the Resurrection. It is a tiring and very emotional week; with every Bridegroom service, every Presanctified Liturgy, with the Holy Unction of Wednesday, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, the lowering from the cross and the Lamentations of Friday, you walk with Christ on an excruciating path. Even if you spend hours upon hours in church, I don’t know of a more productive week, and I truly believe this is so because, although you may believe you walk with Christ, it is He who walks with you. Participating in the act in which God glorifies himself, on the cross (!!!)…

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I Am a Nobody for Whom Someone Is On a Cross

Immigrant on Earth

When I was a child, my aunt took me one day to a monastery close to where I lived: the monastery at Sambata de Sus, Romania. A blind monk lived there, Father Teofil; he had fame among people. Some were saying that he had clairvoyance and that he sensed characters, seeing what people did. I was really afraid because of that. I was a child, but there was something of which I was ashamed. I do not remember what it was, but I clearly know that I did not want my parents to find out. I went to the monastery wondering how much this monk would see through me. In fact, I did not want to go there and I did not want to see him. Of course, I did not confess my fear to my aunt–why would a good Christian boy be afraid of going to a monk?–but I…

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Giving definitions and Grushenka’s spring onion

Immigrant on Earth

I do not eat meat. As one may imagine, whenever I arrive at this topic in a conversation, I always get this reply: “So you are a vegetarian.” This is a fairly safe conclusion. People who do not eat meat are vegetarians (taken in general, without the various definitions depending on peculiar traits); Tavi does not eat meat, so Tavi is a vegetarian. However, I always reply with “no, I am not a vegetarian.”

Needless to say, my interlocutors are always confused and look at me with mistrust. Answers vary from “so you do eat meat” to “you’re funny…” The conversation may get into details, and I explain that I claim that I am not a vegetarian because the term “vegetarian” carries a lot of baggage (including political baggage) and that I prefer to avoid being placed into a category. For me, I am a human being who happens not to…

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A drunk holy man

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Searching for light through thorns. Photo by Andrei.

I once heard a story. I don’t know whether I remember its details correctly, but here is the gist of it: a man goes to a monastery and tells the monks there that he came because an angel told him that a holy man had died in the monastery, and he wanted to pay his respects. But the monks say, “this cannot be true; no holy man has died here.” But the man insisted. “No,” the monks say, “it really cannot be true; the only one who died here for a long time is a drunk; we accepted him in our community, but he could not be a saint; he was drunk almost all day long.”

But the monks, the story goes, did not know that indeed the drunk was a holy man. When he came to the monastery, he used to drink 40 glasses of wine per day, but he was always praying to God to help him with this problem, and by the time he died he was only drinking 20 glasses per day. God saw his effort and blessed him for it.

The story usually brings to surface the lack of understanding that is exhibited in the judgment of another. We do not know his or her battles, problems, or obstacles. But there is one other aspect of it: the drunk was probably seeing himself a sinner; he may have cried over this habit of which he could not escape; he may have asked God’s help in all the days of his life, at times with despair (why can’t I get rid of my drunkenness, o, Lord?), at times with hope (thank you, Lord, for helping me to refuse this glass that is in front of me). But I can’t imagine him feeling entitled, or feeling that he deserves to be called holy. I can’t imagine him considering that he has “progressed” on the way to sainthood. What he had before him was this particular glass of wine, one new battle. Or, as I heard someone say recently, one more occasion to say, “Lord, be with me even if I take this glass.” Or, “Emmanuel.”

 

Invisible help and protection

Photo Andrei.

At a high school concert. In the row in front of us, a chair was broken. I have bad reputation when it comes to repairing things, but for some reason I could repair the chair. It wasn’t any philosophy, really, since it only took me two seconds. In my wisdom, however, I didn’t check whether it could hold someone. Of course, a high school student sat on it. And the chair seemed to work, but it was a bit wobbly.

My wife and I looked at each other. “Let’s tell her that the seat has problems,” my wife said. But all the other seats were taken, so I just replied, “no; let’s just support it.” So my wife and I placed our legs strongly against the back of the seat in front of us, to make sure that the student would not fall back.

Of course, she was completely oblivious during the entire concert. Moving all the time, speaking with her friends, she had not even one thought about the risk that she was facing and also about the support coming from our legs. When the concert ended, she got up and left.

And I remained wondering about the many “legs” that support my life while I have no awareness of it: direct ones, such as prayers, or indirect ones, such as a peaceful society.

Perhaps the heart of life is indeed eucharistia. For all things.