Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lenten Mercy-Meditation: Abba Pemwah Learns Mercy




Abba John told Abba Pemwah in the Egyptian desert, "Take that dry and lifeless stick and plant it in the sand three miles away from our monastery; water it every day". While this required long hours of lugging buckets, Pemwah kept at it. And wondrously, after three years the stick flowered and Abba John called all the brothers together declaring, "Come and see the fruit of obedience." 

Religious people often like the word obedience because it makes for good order. But obedience has to mean more than just: Do what I tell you to do; go where I tell you to go. That kind of obedience can be destructive and a source of evil. "Keep quiet," "Hide this," "Don't report that." That's gotten the Church into big trouble even in our own time. Watch The Nun's Story and see Sister Luke struggling with that kind of obedience. Thomas Merton wondered aloud how many good vocations to the monastic life were lost because of what we call blind obedience.

I would suggest that the Abba Pemwah story is more about mercy than obedience. Maybe Abba John knew that Abba Pemwah needed to learn a new depth of mercy - opening a way for him to learn kindness for all of God's creatures and situations, even those that others would deem hopeless and useless. So he instructed him to undertake the revival of the lifeless stick.

Of course ultimately the story isn't about a dry tree branch. It might rather suggest growing a new attitude towards the adult who can't read, the prisoner back in jail again, the young person with the poor work ethic, the addict who has relapsed, the people we dismiss for a host of reasons, of whom we say, Don't expect much of anything from them. 

A husband on Dr. Phil acknowledged in great humility, that he's not tended to his wife for a very long time, asking how to re-discover her rightly; how to become her friend again. That marriage had become a kind of dried and lifeless stick.That's what the Abba Pemwah story is really about - people and relationships. Maybe ourselves! Any close-to-home ideas or insights?


8 comments:

  1. I do not like the word obedience. It denotes subservience. There are times we must listen and follow instructions, but to be obedient means to follow without choice. It is better to instruct/teach rather than to demand.

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    1. Well said. The classic story about that kind of subservient, destructive obedience is of the young monk who was told by the superior to go out and plant a field of cabbages, but plant them upside down. That's soul-murder. Demanding obedience is lazy; teaching takes effort and time.

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  2. Maybe Abba Pemwah knew that his persistence would pay off. Sometimes our nurturing seems like a futile effort and then all of a sudden, we see the fruits of our labor. Hard work and doing what is right will bring reward, even if we have to wait for it.

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    1. Nothing in the spiritual life happens quickly - we have to learn to be good at waiting - like Mary and Elizabeth in their pregnancies. Not always easy - especially in our "in a rush" culture.

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  3. And how wonderful that life could be brought from the dry, seemingly dead stick. I pray that we all may be able to bring life from where it seems lost.

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  4. Sometimes I just need the strength to carry on. This story shows that strength and perseverance is rewarded with God's blessing. The flower is God's way of showing that he was pleased with Abba Pemwah's work. Obedience had nothing to do with it.

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  5. Always demanding obedience, suffocates love. God doesn't demand love. He shows love. When, I was young, God was portrayed as tough and always watching to see if I was good. Now, I am hearing more and more about a loving and merciful God. Thanks to Pope Francis and you and others. I am hoping the young will tune in too.

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  6. Three miles? That's what struck me. Look at his body. Under the cloak is a failing and weak body. You can see the lumpiness of him. Yet his head is big and bold. To me it's full of wisdom, I bet he thought the same thing that why 3 miles? Why not one or two? He had the wisdom to know that In spite of the harsh command and yet through his obedience, God would bring the fruit of abundant life.

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