A conversation with an Orthodox Christian monk sharing his perspective on God, existence, and the meaning of life. This is the fourth digital letter in a series dedicated to the exploration of existential questions. You can read and hear the rest here, or subscribe to receive them in your inbox here.
When I traveled to the monastery in 2014, I shouldered a burden with me. Even now, with feelings of shame, I must admit that I’ve continued to carry it. Yes, it’s still here, arriving as an accusing whisper beneath my thoughts, demanding that I show how well I stewarded the experience of three months in a spiritual sanctuary – How are you going to better serve the world now? You had time for you, now what are you going to do for everyone else? etc. I assume that the voice is mine, but admitting as much would mean full capitulation into its trap. It can’t be. Somehow, somewhere along the lines of my conditioning, I’ve come to believe that the worth of my life is contingent on what I do. And while I pray that’s not true, it feels like it down to the marrow in my bones.
As I did two years ago with Fr. Silouan, let me share the questions that these feelings excavated:
- How do we break out of the ego identifications we construct as a result of our doing things?
- How do we stop mistaking what we do, either good or bad, for who we are?
- In simpler terms: How do we just be?
With a blessed perspective that often meets those who depart from society’s harsh conditioning, Fr. Silouan addressed my questions by referencing Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov; highlighting existential differences in Eastern and Western thought; and suggesting that our Protestant work ethic has become the disease of our age.
To echo his words, wherever you find yourself, I hope you take a moment to “sit down, be quiet, and realize that you are the image of God." Nothing to do about it.
In loving and being,