I Have Not Yet Made a Beginning
Reflections on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers
We live with the revolving internet outrage of the week. You know what I mean: a celebrity says something or does something, and everyone has an outraged opinion about it. We take sides; we have the story or video clip supporting our outrage. The President tweets something foolish, and we all line up in outrage or support, and we shout past one another without anything resembling a conversation. We argue in the comment section of the post. We go to bed sure of our own righteousness.
As an antidote to the internet outrage of the week I’ve been reading The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were Christians who went to the desert of Egypt, starting in the third century of the common area, to live either as hermits on in a monastic setting. The Sayings are a collection of teachings from significant holy persons from this desert experience. Some of the sayings are wise, some are confusing, and some are bizarre to our modern ears. They strangely have something to say to my heart that is weary of a constant parade of internet outrages. I don’t want to disconnect from the current conversation; I want a deeper wisdom than what’s found in the heat of a moment where we only want to bend the latest event to our own preconceived positions. The Desert Fathers would be unconcerned with scoring points with a social media posting; they were asking questions of more significance.
In the sayings of Abba John, John said to a brother, “Forgive me, abba, for I have not yet made a beginning.” John acknowledges, even as he was regarded a spiritual leader, he was no expert but only a beginner. In the movie, Whale Rider, when Koro, the leader of his Maori tribe, realizes he was wrong to fight the new leadership of his granddaughter, he prays, “Wise leader, forgive me. I am but a fledgling new to flight.” What if we took this attitude to the outrage of the week, while holding onto our conviction we also acknowledge we may have truths yet to learn, and we discuss our convictions with the hopes that we may have something to learn from the other, not only with hopes of banishing those with whom we disagree?
We are all beginners, cast out into a mystery where we struggle to make sense of what is happening around us. I pray with Abba John, “Forgive me; I have not yet made a beginning.”
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict