July 30, 2016
"You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you." (Lk 12:20)
"Live in fear of judgment day
and have a great horror of hell.
Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.
Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.
Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do,
aware that God's gaze is upon you, wherever you may be."
(Rule of St Benedict, 4.44-49)
I stand before God, naked and empty. No overstuffed barns. I await that final, searching gaze with trepidation, because his love is so much greater, fuller and richer, that it cannot but reveal my poverty. If I could learn to love it, this very poverty which is my only treasure before God, then that moment will hold no terror for me. The "fear" of judgment is like the "fear" of God - an awe-filled, longing, trembling ache to be fully seen and fully known, and so made whole.
But terror and great horror is befitting when it comes to hell. What is hell? Hell is despair thinly veiled by superficial pleasure. Hell is a bulging barn and a vacant heart. Hell is bitter zeal: religious fervor expressed through violence. Hell is a closed door, locked from the inside. How many people live in hell today? - the hell of addiction: to alcohol, drugs, sex or success; the hell of despair: self-rejection, depression, neglect or abuse; the hell of hunger: physical, emotional or spiritual; the hell of captivity: in a prison cell, or in fear, anger or hatred. Staretz Silouan said that the holy ones embrace hell with their love; they weep for those who are captive and beg for their release.
Then there is desire for eternal life. A holy longing, a tumultuously flowing river; fed by streams from every natural pleasure, it draws them all together as, with passionate glee, it throws itself into the open sea.
To live on the cusp of eternity is the monastic ideal. St Benedict calls his followers to keep death daily before their eyes and always to dwell under God's gaze. I stand and watch that great kenotic waterfall of life, giving way to death, and finding life again, more abundantly. Thus I may learn how to die. Under God's gaze, I live in security - not the false security of power, possessions and plans, but the one, true security of belonging to God. Thus I may learn how to live, without barns, with God as my treasure.