I recently came across an article of Seraphim's, written many years ago about the time he spent in India. He was invited to a Christian Ashram in the Himalayas for dialog on the enculturalization of prayer.
Written by Fr. Seraphim
❖Coffee spilled into my lap as I heard, "Oh, I'm sorry, please forgive me." Grabbing a napkin, I assured the person who had bumped into me that it was okay. As I refilled my cup, I was reminded of a day on a dusty street in New Delhi, India, and how I learned one of the great spiritual lessons of my life.
Some years ago, I travelled to the Jeevan Dhara Ashram located in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. I went to pray and spend time with the head of the ashram. My cell looked out on the majestic peaks which were breathtakingly beautiful. The air was fresh and scented with mountain flowers; it was a truly idyllic setting. Each morning I would rise at 3 AM to pray the Divine Office, remaining in prayer as the sun ignited the majestic peaks with heavenly golden light.
|Jeevan Dhara Ashram in Himalayas (India) ©2012 NHA, All Rights Reserved|
Then, with Jesus beads in my hands, I would take a prayer walk which would eventually lead me to the chapel of the Ashram. My time in the mountain paradise seemed to blend into one continuous, ongoing prayer. One day I was talking to a pilgrim who had just arrived from Germany. As we discussed the beauty and calm of the ashram I said "It sure is easy to be holy in a place like this," and he said, "Yeh, it sure is," as we gazed on the valley below.
|Statue of sitting Christ in the Ashram Gardens, India ©2012 NHA, All Rights Reserved|
A week later I made my way to New Delhi, where I spent my days walking the streets, silently praying the Jesus Prayer. I was still swimming in the holiness of the ashram when a motorized rickshaw ran up on the walk, heading straight for me! As the driver was bearing down on me I thought, surely he wouldn't hit me on purpose! How wrong I was - I bounced off the front of the rickshaw. I landed on the ground and yelled, "You idiot!" as he drove off waving his arms and blowing his horn. Dusting myself off I said, "Oh well, forget it," and walked on, keeping careful eye open for ricks.
|Streets of Delhi, India (1980's) ©2012 NHA, All Rights Reserved|
Suddenly the noise of the city faded as my thoughts turned inward to the space where God speaks to us beyond words and images. A week before I had been in a Himalayan bliss, so "close" to God, so spiritual and saying, "It's easy to be holy in a place like this." Now, the first time I"m with someone since then I get angry and call him an idiot! I suddenly realized it's easy to think you can be holy in a place like an ashram. The test of holiness, however, is not being in an ashram, on a mountain, or in one's set times of prayer. The real test is carried out in the marketplace where life bumps us literally and figuratively.
|Looking at this old photo, it proves that there was a time when Seraphim actually was young! (Tall man, back roll, left) ©2101 NHA|
Back in the present, as I took another sip of coffee, I thought, the reason coffee was spilled on me was not because I was accidentally bumped but because there was coffee in the cup to begin with. What's inside a person is what comes out when they are bumped. We are to be filled with Christ so that when we are bumped, out come forgiveness, understanding, encouragement, compassion, love and whatever the present moment demands. (Col. 1:27). ❖
During this Lenten Season, as we fast, prepare our hearts, deepening our prayer lives, and attempt to take our spiritual disciplines more seriously, - its easy to think we are holy. But its what we do when life knocks us around and we get jolted.
We will get bumped. What is inside? What will come out? anger? revenge? mean-spirited, hurtful words? jealousy? If that is what is inside you, then that is what will come out.
However, if forgiveness, love, words that offer redemption, ...if those are the things that are inside you - then that is what will be unleashed on whatever jars us out of our comfort zones. May this Lenten Season be one in which the overflow within us is emptied of everything that isn't rooted in love.