The Monk on the Mountain

There is a story about a young novice monk, who for years had lived in a rigid monastery on the side of a mountain.  He had been in the monastery for a little over ten years and still struggled with finding peace.

          Each morning he could be found looking out the window of his small room, daydreaming about what life was like in the small city far below the walls of his order.  Each and everyday he spent hours contemplating what life could have been like, or what could have been.

          It wasn’t long before his envy turned to bitterness, the bitterness to anger, and eventually the anger into depression.  No matter what he did peace eluded him.   He truly was in an emotional, spiritual, and physical freefall.  It was so bad, that eventually the head monk heard of the younger’s struggles and summoned him for a meeting.

          “Brother Timothy,” the elder monk sternly said “your lack of peace is disturbing.   Your lack of peace is unhealthy.   It is killing you.   You need to make a change.”

          “I have tried everything,” the younger monk said through tears “I have turned to scripture, I have prayed.   I have read the old works.   I have tried everything I can think of, but nothing has worked.  I don’t know what to do”

          The older monk looked on the younger with compassion, and said: “If nothing has worked, then you must see Brother Philemon on the mountain.”

          Brother Philemon was the oldest of the orders monk, and by some considered crazy.   Others thought he had reached a new level of peace and holiness.    Thirty years ago, he decided he was going to live in solitude as a hermit, high at the top of the mountain.  

          The Elder monk, had told the story of how when Philemon was young he too fought with finding the peace that eluded Timothy.    If there was anyone that would have the answer, it just had to be Philemon.  

          That very day, the younger grabbed supplies and began what would prove to be a month long trek to find the elusive monk.    After several weeks, he stumbled from behind a pile of rocks, and saw the old and frail monk standing on the lip of a cliff.     He was too far away to hear what the monk was saying, but Timothy reasoned it was a prayer.

          Not wanting to disturb the prayer, he quietly inched forward.   As he got closer, his legs grew unsteady.   He looked off the side of the cliff, and realized that it was hundreds upon hundreds of feet up.    He didn’t like being on this mountain, so he decided to call out to the old monk.

          When he was close enough to be heard he spoke up;  “Greetings, Dear Brother Philemon!”   It was then he heard the prayer.

          “25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

“I have come to seeking wisdom, and seeking answers!”

“25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

“I have come to find peace!”

          “25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

With each attempt to gain the monks attention he got closer and closer, until he was standing alongside the monk, who only stared with his head lowered, as he looked down off the side of the cliff.

          “25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

The young monk, was so confused.   What could possibly be so enchanting.   He too began to look down through the clouds, off the side of the cliff.    The elder monks words were like a mantra:  ““25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

In that moment, ever so slowly the elder monk raised a weak and shaky arm.     He put it slowly on the shoulder of the younger monk.

          “25, 25, 25, 25, 25, 25….”

After a few seconds and in silence, the monk moved his hand to the monks back, and SHOVED HIM OFF THE SIDE OF THE CLIFF”

And with a peaceful smile, began a new prayer….

“26, 26, 26, 26,….”

Although it may be a joke that makes one cringe, it is a favorite, as it serves as a reminder that there are millions who have found peace and purpose in this world only in the suffering and the falling of others.   In the pain of others they find some sort of validation of their own lives.

Some act as silent witnesses to the pain around them [and then in silence offer endorsement] while others do the pushing.   This is a reality, and because of it, the world around us  is often scary and full of mistrust.

As people of faith, we are supposed to be different.   We too come searching for a different way.  Many people who come through our church’s doors find peace elusive.   For them the church is the last place they have come looking for answers, and they come only after struggling to find them on their own.

          Sadly, without ever even realizing it, we become like the monk who shoves the seeker off the cliff.   When we meet the seeker with judgment or suspicion, we are marketing ourselves as no different from the rest of the world.   Ultimately, the church all too frequently offers further hurt, rather than healing.

          Maybe we need the reminder, that our first reaction should be the outstretched arm, the welcoming hand, and the smile.   Ultimately, I believe there is no greater evangelistic or outreach tool than then these.   We are people of hope, promise, love, joy, compassion and change.    This should be what a seeker senses within the first few moments of enter church.   Anything else is just hypocritical, and empty.

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