The Holiest Place
Our Yoga Nature | Issue #130
As I contemplated this month’s theme and what to write about, the title “Holy Struggle” came to mind. But, I sensed no one would open it! Who wants to think about struggle after these past two years and in the often-unexpected tension of the holidays? I chose instead the title “The Holiest Place” because that is what we experience when our struggle brings us closer rather than away from others. In this place of the heart we discover what Christianity calls the Holy Spirit, something I recently experienced when my struggle with my mother’s health led to a holy conversation with a stranger.
The Orthodox monks and nuns are known to ask novices, “How is your spiritual struggle going?” These same spiritual elders exude an overwhelming compassion for humankind, a gift they receive as the result of…guess what…great struggle. At first glance it seems hard to understand why struggle would be important. But, as we discussed in our community call last week, we can easily recognize that the best experiences in life require struggle: childbirth, running a marathon, working through a painful issue with an important person in our lives, etc. Our conversation also recognized the sacred connection we have with others when we share our struggle, and hear that of another. This raw, honest, authentic communication with one another may very well be the holiest place.
The holiest places exist all around us every day. In my catechumen class last week, Father Michael reminded us that we need not travel nor seek to find the spiritual. He continued, “The Holy Church says that your life is your spiritual life, as much as you avail yourselves of that which is God. We walk through our life through our prayer, our belief, with eyes and ears to perceive that God is with us. Spiritual life is the way God has blessed us to walk through what is in front of us.”
This especially resonated with me as I am recently facing a setback in my mother’s health. Her memory loss has advanced to the point that she is no longer able to live independently across the street from us, and has been staying in our small quarters for the last few days. Her current condition requires a lot of repetition, reminders, and reassurance, not to mention full time attention. I remind myself that struggle brings fruits. This struggle provides me spiritual practice in patience, selflessness and trust.
A story about Father Paisios, a revered spiritual elder in the Orthodox tradition, shares similar wisdom.* A novice who was receiving his counsel and care proceeded to make many blunders, returning to old and destructive patterns. Frustrated and humiliated after so many of these failures, the novice fell to the feet of the elder, asking for forgiveness. Father Paisos said in his famously loving way, “What are you talking about, blessed child? Do you know how much good you’ve done for me? Do you know how many times you’ve put the prayer rope in my hands?” Father Paisos, who reposed in 1994 and is now considered a Saint, genuinely saw his relationship with the troubled novice as a benefit to his spiritual practice, for it forced him to pray with more fervor and dedication.
I was reflecting on my current struggle with my mother’s condition when I received a call back from the doctor’s office. I had spent 20 minutes on hold that morning and ended up having to leave a message. When I received the call back I sadly had very low expectations and almost didn’t take the call. From the moment I heard the nurse’s voice, I was put at ease. What ensued was such an extraordinary experience that I’m still trying to understand it. It reminded me of how the Orthodox tradition describes the Holy Spirit, the “Comforter” who moves and speaks God’s love through each of us. It was as though time stood still, and light and love surrounded me. This nurse went above and beyond the call of duty, giving me all sorts of tips on what could happen in the future and how to navigate the medical system. But, mostly, she gave me her attention, her time, and her compassion. I told her she was like an angel.
May we be like angels of light in the struggles of darkness that surround us in this human experience. This holiest place is one we can not touch nor understand with our mind, but exists within our hearts and multiplies exponentially when shared. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
With Great Love,
*Farasiotis, Dionysios, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisos, 2019, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
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