Continuing the Wilderness Sojourn: Reaching the Destination

This is the conclusion to the blog  Metropolitan Council: What Were You Discussing?

The Metropolitan Council meetings are a sojourn, sometimes in the wilderness of Sin, at other times crossing the Jordan to the promised destination.  Lately, much of the meeting time is spent in Executive Session, which allows open discussion within the meeting but then limits what can be publicly expressed.   It is the dilemma:  how can we tell the church what we spent hours discussing in confidentiality?  How can we as good stewards not tell them?

I was elected as an at-large delegate to the Metropolitan Council at the 2008 All American Council.   I must give an account of the stewardship which was entrusted to me.

A story from the desert fathers:

Some brothers set out to visit the brothers of another monastery.  A young monk was appointed to lead them to the monastery.  Because they lived in the desert, they traveled at night when it was cooler.  They walked virtually all night not arriving at their destination.  Finally the young monk said, “Brothers, I am lost.”

“We know,” replied his brethren.  “You knew and yet you did not complain?” asked the young monk.  “We didn’t want to offend you,” said his brethren.

I’ve seen several versions of this story from the desert fathers each with some variation in the story and also in the conclusion of the story.  It certainly is a  non-rational Christian koan which defies the preference of American Christians for pragmatism.  “Just correct his error and get to your destination,” would be a more American reading of the story.

The story however has many and varied lessons. Not the least of which is the relationship between the people of God and the desert wilderness.   There are valuable lessons to be learned when lost in the desert.   And being there and wandering in apparent aimlessness doesn’t mean God has abandoned you.  It may be a time of testing.  Just ask the Hebrew children.

In our story, the brothers prefer to preserve unity amongst themselves then to prove themselves right against a brother.  The brothers are willing to recognize the young monk has been given a task to lead them, and they voluntarily live obedience because of love.   But take note as well, the young monk’s error is in finding the physical destination, had he led the monks into heresy, you can bet this story would have had a very different outcome and they would not have followed him.

But the story’s lesson is not about something as critical as theological truth.   It is about unity, love, community and reconciliation.  In the end the brothers are reconciled to the errant monk who has exhausted them by wandering lost in the desert.   And the young monk himself is astonished at his brother’s love and reconciled to them despite his error which has wasted their time and exhausted them.  He realizes he was in error, and his brothers know it!  And is astonished at their forgiving love – they knew he was lost, but they waited for him to become reconciled to them – to admit he was not up to the task of being their leader.   In a way,  it is a quirky retelling of the Prodigal Son story:  the son who comes to his senses and seeks his father’s forgiveness.

The young monk had an assignment to accomplish and he wanted to obey.  But he was not up to the task.  He failed.  But though he failed in his assigned task, and though the story ends at this point, one assumes that the brothers get to their destination.  Being lost in the desert, come daylight, might have tragic consequences.   That isn’t in the story.  The lesson learned is that I must be humble enough to admit that I may not be qualified to lead.

They don’t keep following the failed brother, but in the midst of dealing with their problems, they help him learn about humility, love, unity, patience, community.  Many lessons are there to be learned.   And we assume from the story the young monk was capable of learning these spiritual lessons so that he could abide in community.  The lessons were a spiritual gift to one who was able to recognize his own failings, to recognize the pain his actions had afflicted on his fellow monks, to recognize the need for reconciliation with them,  to humble himself before his brothers, and to recognize what love demanded of him if he would live the lessons learned.

The story would be very different if the young monk proved incorrigible, or if he failed to repent, apologize and seek reconciliation with his brothers.  Or if he repeated the same wrongful behavior over and over again even after apologizing.   And indeed the story probably would never made it into the collection of desert fathers’ wisdom, if in the end they weren’t all reconciled in love and capable of heading in the correct direction to attain their goal.  All Lessons to be sorted out for the Metropolitan Council as well.

The brothers did not have the goal of being led astray, nor were they allowing themselves to be led to destruction or disaster.  They were moving toward the lessons about love, brotherhood, unity and community.  Was there a time for the brothers to speak up?  No doubt there would have been, but that lesson is beyond the immediate purpose of the story.

Wisdom says there is a time to be silent but also a time to speak; there is a time to build up as well as the time to break down; there is a time to seek and a time to lose (Ecclesiastes 3).   Discerning the time is the way of Holy Wisdom.  God promises to forgive our sins in that time when we repent, He doesn’t promise us a tomorrow on which to do it.

See also my blogs Adventure’s in Wonderland  and  To Be Ruled Well is Typical of the Wise Person