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Monastic Tips for Self-isolation

The Law of Kindness

The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.

The wise king Solomon said of the virtuous woman, 'The Law of kindness is on her lips' (Prov. 31:26). It is most often a mother who has been given the special grace of teaching us kindness, not only with her words, but also through her ways. If this has not been in our experience, the Mother of God is there to help us, when we turn to her in prayer. The painting above, The Maiden of Kosovo, by Uroš Predić, captures this special quality as she tends to the wounded, martyred soldiers on the hallowed battlefield.

During these times of isolation, some are in lock down with the same people day in, and day out. Qualities in the others that before were 'no big deal', now can become irritating. This is eye-opening. It leads to lessons that we learn about ourselves and others. Opportunities present themselves to grow in kindness, patience and love. The following snapshots reveal this law of kindness from a few stories about Abba Poemen and another elder . May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ grow in us as we seek His help and mercy.

Once two brothers came to a certain [elder]. It was his custom not to eat every day but when he saw them he received them joyfully and said, 'A fast has its own reward, but he who eats for the sake of love fulfils two commandments: he leaves his own will and he refreshes his brothers.'

Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, SLG, p. 42

Often when trying to fast, we can become grumpy. It comes from the desire to grow spiritually struggling with our natural desire to eat! But, when our will is set on fasting too much, it can lead to overlooking the care of our brother. We have 'zeal without knowledge' of the immense love of God. In the Desert Fathers and Mothers we see that the law of charity supersedes the law of fasting. If taken to an extreme, we could use this as an excuse for omitting the spiritually beneficial discipline of fasting altogether! But if we carry this value of love first, we will find a way to fulfill both, as Jesus said. "These things you ought to have done, without neglecting the other also' (Lk. 11:42).

Some monks came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'When we see brothers dozing during the services in church, should we rouse them so that they can be watchful?' He said to them, 'For my part, when I see a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.'

Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, SLG, p. 45

Such kindness in Abba Poemen! St. Paul said, 'But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children' (1 Thes. 2:7 NKJV). This kind of 'bearing one another's burdens' (Gal. 6:2) is found throughout the Desert Fathers and Mothers. At home, such opportunities present themselves often. Not saying anything if my sister uses up most of the available minutes on the phone, or if my brother didn't clean up after himself, or if dad used up most of the hot water. Yes, we could say something, and sometimes we need to, but often finding little ways to care for the other without them noticing, brings a spiritual blessing and joy. When we are so busy we can distract from each other, these things might not matter. But when we are all together in lockdown, these normally small things can become big. So we see it, pray about it, and then go on, trusting that God will help us do better the next time.

Abba Poemen said, 'There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for his neighbour. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbour.'

Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, SLG, p. 42

This way of love is so simple! I don't have to literally die in these examples. I just have to die to myself. I put Christ first by putting my neighbor first. One of the earliest examples I remember from the law of kindness is when my mother explained about not taking the biggest piece of cake for myself, but leaving it for another as an act of love. I didn't understand it at the time. But later I realized that she was training me in the law of kindness.

This Covid-19 pandemic won't be here forever. But the lessons and treasures we learn from this time will be. The Word of the Lord abideth forever. May He continue to write His Laws on the tablets of our hearts, especially the Law of Kindness. The "fruit of the Holy Spirit is... kindness!" (Gal. 5:22).

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