By Leo Campos
The office where I work is being moved. The whole corporate office is being boxed up and we are moving to a new building. While this is wonderful news, it is also cause for much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is amazing to me the amount of stuff that people can collect in their tiny cubicles. They look like a clown car – boxes and boxes of stuff keep coming out of each of these small workspaces.
Together with the sheer volume of stuff accumulated, there is also a large amount of discontent and stress which is associated with any move. Psychologists tell us that issues of work, and moving houses are among the top three or top five (depends who you ask) most stressful things in life. When you have an office move you are pretty much guaranteeing a perfect storm.
So I walk around trying to simultaneously stay out of people’s way and reassure them that the servers will be functioning just perfectly the day after the move, that none of their highly important emails, all 1,527 of them, will be lost – even though I not-so-secretly suspect that the majority of these highly important pieces of data refer to cookie recipes or hangover cures.
I also try to be prayerful or at least cognizant of my own need for prayer during these times. I grab on to my prayer beads like a drowning man to a rope.
As is gets closer to the day of the move I find myself praying against all sorts of possible, probable or completely ludicrous things that might go wrong – from a clumsy mover dropping a server on the floor – deliver us Lord. From having another meeting so people can vent their frustrations – deliver us Lord. From a meteor striking the Earth – deliver us Lord! And on and on.
This whole petition for delivery tends to be one of the most overlooked or over-used of the lines in the prayer the Lord gave to the disciples. Usually it gets translated in our hearts as “Lord protect me and do not allow anything bad to happen to me.” There is a tone of fear and trepidation. There is recognition of weakness. there is also a petition for the opposite to happen – don’t let me get fired, don’t let me get robbed, don’t let me be injured. The request for deliverance from the Evil One or just generic, garden-variety evil is also common in Jewish prayers of the time.
But is this how I should read it? Or is this the only way to read it? There is an interesting story from the Desert Fathers which goes like this:
There was an old man living in the desert who served God for so many years and he said, “Lord, let me know if I have pleased you.”
He saw an angel who said to him, “You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such place.” The old man marveled and said, “I will go off to the city to see both him and what it is that he does that surpasses all my work and toil of all these years.”
So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life. When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people singing bawdy songs in the streets, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place.
Therefore the old man said to him, “Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?”
The man said, “I tell you, Abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized.”
When he heard this the old man said, “What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?” And he replied, “That they are all going into the Kingdom.”
When he heard this, the old man marveled and said, “This is the practice which surpasses my labor of all these years.”
In this story it is clear that the evil I am asking to be delivered from is not the other, but rather myself. To be able to say with all certainty that “I have never been troubled or scandalized” would be amazing.
Take a leap of imagination and pretend for a second that you are not and will not be troubled by the behavior of others (or your own); that your environment will not have any effect on you, that you can truly say with Paul that you have nothing though possess all things (2 Cor. 6).
The next part, “Scandalized” is a lovely word which comes to English via the Old French “scandale” which means “cause of sin”. It in turn comes from the Latin “scandalum” which means a trap, stumbling block, or temptation. And, as usual, these words come from the Greek.
Imagine and pretend for a moment that you are not and will not be scandalized by others. That their atrocious behavior will not bother you in the least. And, perhaps harder, that you will also not be impressed by their apparently flawless behavior either.
Hold on to this image. See how easy it is to then be able in your heart of hearts to know, not just believe or hope, but be certain that they are all going into the Kingdom?
Every day I sit at my boxed up cubicle, listening to the semi-hysterical prattle of my co-workers about the latest moving crisis and let try to let this be my prayer: they too are going to the Kingdom. Followed quickly by only 5 more days Lord. Only 4 more days Lord…
Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the “tech guy” for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).