I have been reading a little of Thomas Merton’s “The Wisdom of the Desert,” his translation of sayings of the desert fathers and mothers, and I came across this pearl of wisdom that I thought I’d share:
One of the elders used to say: In the beginning when we got together we used to talk about something that was good for our souls, and we went up and up, and ascended even to heaven. But now we get together and spend our time in criticizing everything, and we drag one another down into the abyss.From “The Wisdom of the Desert” by Thomas Merton
It’s so easy these days to “spend our time in criticizing everything,” isn’t it? There is something almost gratifying about reading that these desert hermits and monks were doing the same thing all the way back in the 3rd century! I can’t imagine what they had to criticize, out there in the wilderness, away from all of the typical frustrations that bring us down “into the abyss.” Was there another hermit living too close? Were they having too many visitors seeking out their remote cave? But even out there in the desert, with few things to get in the way of their solitude and prayer, they found things to criticize.
And so, one of their elders offers this pearl of wisdom that continues to resonate today: spend less time criticizing, and more time talking about things that are good for our souls. There will always be things to criticize. One look at social media can remind us of that! But there will also always be things that we can talk about that are good for our souls.
And not just talk about – think about, too. Here is Paul’s word of wisdom from his Letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:8-9
I needed this reminder, and perhaps some of you do, too – to spend time thinking about things that are true and honorable and pure and commendable. And to make sure that we are talking about things that are good for our souls. And to be assured that when we do this, the God of peace will be with us.