Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Deepening Christian Spirituality
or Three Russian Monks on an Island
Dr Alex Tang
Three Russian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived, he discovered that the monks didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. So he spent all his time and energy teaching them the “Our Father” and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when his ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water – in fact, they were running after the ship! When they reached it, they cried, “Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us.”
The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, “But, dear brothers, how the do you pray?” They answered, “Well, we just say, ‘Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!’” The bishop, awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity said, “Go back to your land and be at peace.”
Tolstoy’s parable illustrates true Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is not about being able to memorise and recite the Lord’s Prayer (though it will be good to be able to do it), conducting “worship” services in a certain place, receiving higher theological learning or even what we can do for God. All these are helpful for Christian living but as the three monks have shown us, it is not the key. Christian spirituality is simple. It is all about God. Relationship with the Triune God is the key. Being mindful of the awesomeness of God and our place as his creatures needing mercy is the turning of the key and opening the door to a life of sanctity and simplicity. Peter could not understand this and he sank beneath the waves. A holy life with God demands simplicity. The rest is religiosity. Religiosity is about having too many rules, regulations and rituals to govern our worship of God. We accuse the Pharisees of religiosity, not realising our own mirrors reflect the same image. The religiosity of our communities of faith actually separate people from God.
Christian spirituality needs solitude to develop. These three monks lived on an island that nobody visits so they have ample solitude. However solitude is not so much a place as a state of mind. In our hurried busy lifestyle, it is still possible to find solitude. However, we must first desire it. If we truly desire to know God, we will find time for this solitude. Even in the busiest life, solitude may be found. First realise that there is a place for all of us where God is waiting for us. Let us call this place solitude. Think of it as a room with a door which we can enter and leave anytime. We enter this room to spend time with God. God is there in the room, patiently waiting for us all the time. The length of time we spend with him is not important. It may be hours, moments, seconds or microseconds. It may even be as short as the time between our breaths. God does not mind. He wants to meet with us and the length of time does not matter to him who is timeless. Next resolve to visit this room as often as possible in a day. This will keep our mind focused upon God. Slowly develop this into a habit. Suddenly you will realise that you do have time for solitude. In your solitude, commune with God for this is the language of prayer. Share with him, who loves you, your hopes and your plans; your hurt and your pain; your loneliness and your aloneness; your love and your joy; and your need for him. Then learn to listen. And you will realise that it is not in the storm, or the wind or the earthquake, but in a small still voice that you will hear God say “you are my beloved.” This is Christian spirituality.
Christian spirituality is the developing of our love relationship with God over time. Aside from solitude, Christian spirituality needs time. We will gradually come to understand that God already is loving us when we are just primordial elements at the moment of creation, even more when our forms were developing in our mothers’ wombs, and most of all when our consciousness become aware of him. God uses the metaphors of the sexual act, bride and bridegroom, and marriage to describe his love for us. Yet, God’s love is not a romantic love but a transforming hesed love, and if we yield to him, we will become more like him until we are one with him. Then surely we can compete with horses (Jer 12:5), and run on water.
Soli Deo Gloria
21st August 2009
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