Franz Kafka wrote a story which you may have “had to” read at some time in school. A man had committed himself to a demeaning job to support his poor parents and sister. He awakes one morning to find himself changed into an insect so immense he can barely get out of his bedroom door. No longer able to provide any money, his very existence becomes a terror, a burden, and a source of real embarrassment for them. Ironically (and what is life if not ironic?), Continue reading “Breaking Free”
How big is the universe? How big is the mind? How big is the human heart? Modern reasoning would tell us that the first is the largest, and the third the smallest. Is it, though? All the “secrets of the universe” are there to be analysed, categorised, and conveniently packaged by the human mind, so the mind must be greater. Likewise, the ancient sages, who have known the human heart most fully, tell us that the first step of prayer or meditation is to bring the mind into the heart. So, at least in potential, the greatest space in all of nature is the very center of your own being.
King David, of early-ancient Israel, wrote in a hymn of praise, “You have set my heart in a large place,” and, “You have enlarged my heart.” In the speech of that day wisdom was seen as having a large heart. Today, a friend is someone who has given us their heart, and we, ours, to them. First of all, in doing this we give that friend the gift of space, of the possibility to be truly him- or her-self, and as our hearts enlarge we discover our place in the universe, and its place in us.
An old Irish saying translates for us as, “The hand of a stranger is the hand of God.” No meeting is without meaning; everyone who comes into our lives brings some insight, so direction, some particular blessing. As we learn to listen we come aware of this, so that no encounter is wasted.
At the same time, our lives quickly fill themselves with strangers, colleagues, and acquaintances while a friend, and the relationship with that friend, can come once in a lifetime. The affection of a true friendship is far beyond anything social, sexual, or even ideological, but as Aristotle said, true wisdom comes from affection. As I write this I look, and see I have over 3,000 “friends” on Facebook, about half that in “followers” on Twitter, and various more on other networks. Some of these are acquaintances, in real-life terms, and most I will never meet face-to-face. In fact, while we think that electronic media make us more connected with others we find ourselves more isolated and, often, more convinced of our own opinions. This kind of “engagement” tends only to self-certainty, spite, and every kind of fundamentalism. So, we not only fail to connect with others, but we risk making ourselves all the less likely to ever discover the sacred experience of true friendship. It’s no coincidence that the most popular pop song in history sings the line, “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.”
William Shakespeare gives us the remedy for this:
“The friends thou hast, and their attention tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
Our Western world has long emphasized knowledge—factual information and “proof”—over the process of being known by God and others. No wonder, then, that despite all our technological advancements and the proliferation of social media, we are more intra- and interpersonally isolated than ever. Yet it is only when we are known that we are positioned to become conduits of love. And it is love that transforms our minds, makes forgiveness possible, and weaves a community of disparate people into the tapestry of God’s family.