Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Know Thyself

On the spirituality page of the Korea Times, the columnist discusses his accidental meeting with a priest friend, who had recently returned from a pilgrimage to Egypt and Israel.

During dinner at a restaurant that evening, he asked him what was most memorable about the visit. Nothing really stood out, the priest said. All of it was a great experience, and he was full of gratitude that he was able to make the pilgrimage.  However, there was one place where he learned a lot about himself; it was on Mount Sinai.

His curiosity aroused, the columnist asked what he meant. The priest mentioned that they began the trip up the mountain at two o'clock in the morning. Each climber had a hand-flashlight and they began the ascent slowly. When they arrived at the top of the mountain, they were greeted with the thrilling sight of the sun's rays.  Meeting God in this place was the feeling he had, and he relished the time. During the climb he reflected on his life as a priest, the meaning of the ten commandments and the law of love to which they pointed. It was, he said, a meditation of great satisfaction, joy and thanks.

"Father, what did you do when you descended?" asked the columnist.

"My thinking was not healthy and I fell into temptation." replied the priest. "My body had become accustomed to many bad habits."

They were surprising revelations, which prompted the columnist to ask for an explanation. 

The priest mentioned that they all returned to their quarters, where they were to have breakfast, go to their rooms to wash up, and then begin the next leg of their pilgrimage. The whole place reeked of spices, he said, and he didn't like what was on the menu. He lost his appetite, and only had a glass of water before going to his room. The quarters were seen as expensive by the local inhabitants, but he saw them as horrible. He wanted to  put water in the tub to rest his tired body, but this was not possible: the shower was in poor shape, with little water coming out, and the soap and shampoo had seen better days. The air conditioner wasn't working, and now fuming with rage and drenched in sweat he went outside.

The members of the group, on seeing him, greeted him, with one individual remarking, "Father, your face this morning, when you arrived at the top of the mountain, was full of joy." This hit him like a ton of bricks. It was true, he said. Arriving on the mountain top after meditating on the Commandments and deciding to begin living a more loving life, he did feel filled with joy. And yet he had to admit that just a few hours later, not able to gratify his needs of comfort, he was filled with displeasure and criticism.
That afternoon, he said, he had plenty of time to think about the kind of person he was. It's easy to be overcome with fine sentiments when meditating and seeing yourself the way you want to be seen, he mused, but it's often quite another thing to see yourself in less than ideal circumstances, with results that are quite different. We are "animals that easily forget" concluded the columnist. In our thoughts, we can flatter ourselves by believing we have made substantial progress in living a more loving life. Our actual living, however, is more difficult than settling for the self-serving reflections we make on the way we live. It was a lesson the priest did not expect from the pilgrimage but one he gratefully accepted. 

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