Gary and the Monk

orthodox monk

“Gary and the Monk” 

“One day in 1974, a bearded young man named Gary was sitting in the Redding public library.  He was twenty-three years old, on his way from Mexico to Washington on another leg of a five-year fruitless “search for the meaning of life.” All his worldly possessions were in his knapsack in the Redding bus depot; he had almost no money with him – just a bag of bananas which someone had given him at a grocery store. He put his head on the table in the library, in despair at finding that everything he had read about philosophy and religion was absolutely empty and there was no answer to the questions he was asking.

About ten minutes later Gary saw a tall man, with long hair and a beard, in a worn black robe, walk into the library and proceed to look at the rows of books.  The man looked even poorer than Gary himself. Gary walked up to him with the bag of bananas.  “Here,” he said, “for your community, of whatever it is.”

Fr. Seraphim thanked him, and within a few minutes was already leaving the library with some books.  Walking down the sidewalk he suddenly saw Gary running up to him.  Little did Gary know that this black-robed figured had celebrated Pascha only four days before, that he still had the joy of the Resurrection in his heart…

“..I invited him to come and stay with us until Sunday, attending all our services, reading and working, and sitting in a kind of wide-eyed stupefaction as we tried to open up Orthodoxy to him – about which he had never heard except through Dostoyevsky…He had been in despair, and was overwhelmed at finding people who still believe in God, and not in a fake way.  The Paschal chants touched his heart, and he asked permission to sing, ‘Christ is Risen,’ softly, together with us…He left without knowing fully what had happened to him, but at least he knew that a ‘ray of light has dawned.”

When Gary was saying farewell to Fr. Seraphim at the bus station, he began to weep. “I don’t know what will become of me,” he said, “but you’ve given me hope.  And I’m deeply grateful for the connection you’ve made between me and Jesus Christ.!”

The above is an except from Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene, pg. 616 – 617

Photograph from a shared photo at Flickr

 

Quitting Facebook: Christmas Letters, Facebook, Technology, and Community

christmas

The other day as my husband and I designed our yearly Christmas card (the first one in three years), we reminisced about the Christmas letters our parents would receive each year when we were growing up. I loved reading these letters and seeing what all of our family and friends around the United States were up to, especially the children around my age. In the 80s and 90s, the Christmas letter was clearly the key time to, well, brag about oneself and one’s family. (I’m not sure if my family did a Christmas letter actually..maybe one time?). I wouldn’t say that all of the letters were bragging by any stretch of the means, but its funny to think that the Christmas letter was essentially the Facebook of the 80s and 90s! That was all you got! A yearly update to tell you that Johnny’s soccer league won the City Championship, Sara earned another Girl Scout badge, Marjorie sang a solo at church, or maybe a new baby was born. If you were lucky, the Christmas letter would include an updated picture of everyone in the family, or possibly even a homemade photo collage including vacation photos.

If the Christmas letter of the 80s and 90s posed challenges to the passions then, I wonder what Facebook does today! (Passions are related to the seven deadly sins. Pride and envy, for example.) For many people, Facebook is like sending and receiving Christmas letters twenty or more times a day!

Perhaps I am a weaker soul than most. Over a year ago, I mostly stopped using Facebook. I say mostly because I still have an active profile. I had been wanting to quit for a while but was unsure because many people use the site for event invitations or mass emails and I didn’t want to be completely out of the loop. Then someone gave me the idea of adjusting my settings so I never have to log on and am only notified if I receive an event invitation, am tagged in a photo, etc. The rest is history. I feel a huge weight off of my shoulders without Facebook!

When using Facebook, most times I would log on, I would struggle with being judgmental (i.e. “Why would they post that!”), with being envious, or being prideful and with wanting to jump on the bandwagon and post my own witticisms to get attention and feed my ego. I must admit, the first week or so without Facebook was weird. Having used Facebook since the early 2000s while in college, I was truly alone with my thoughts for the first time in a decade. There was no one to immediately tell when my son did something cute, no one to tell right away if something interesting happened…I had to either tell myself and move on, text or tell my husband when he came home from work, or wait to tell a friend the next time we had an actual conversation at the park or at church, or maybe by text. If I forgot about the thing I would have otherwise shared, it must not have been very important to begin with and it could have been an idle thought.

I am honestly the most content I have been in a long time without Facebook. I am more bold with friendships…I don’t second guess myself like I used to, when I would say for example: “Well, they have so many friends on Facebook, they seem really busy, I’ll try another friend since they have enough, I would just be a bother to them.” Which brings me to another part of the story…kind of a sad part…

In the Fall of 2012, I moved from Orange County to North San Diego County. I was Facebook friends with pretty much everyone I had met during my four years of living there. After moving, I realized that my interactions with my Orange County friends were almost completely unchanged despite the fact that I had moved. I had grown so accustomed to brief in person interactions at church, with the bulk of the relationship being on Facebook, and by relationship I mean, of course, one’s thoughts thrown on Facebook for all to see (or perhaps everyone on a certain list to see). I guess I wasn’t bold enough before that time to find out what I knew to be true…I didn’t have many actual deep friendships. My moving away changed their physical world and cyber community very little.

I now communicate with all of my new North San Diego friends outside of Facebook and while I may not be able to count my friends on two hands, I am confident in these friendships and enjoy getting to know these people organically.

Which brings me to why I still have a hard time with having a blog because I don’t really like the internet and think that it has generally brought harm to society. Abbot Tryphon recently posted on his blog The Morning Offering on the topic of social media and isolation (for some reason, I am unable to link to his blogspot page.) I was very encouraged by his post about how we must struggle against the isolation of technology and fight for the communal nature of Christianity.

I remember the first time I saw “the internet” in my dad’s office at work when I was about nine years old. Even then I felt trepidation for how much the internet would change our world. Last week, as I walked around the airport with my 17 month old son, it was saddening to see how many people would not look up from their kindles, iphone, or ipads to glance or wave at an adorable baby. Some people did though…and for those people and moments, I am grateful.

I guess I have realized that as sad as it is, this thing – the internet – is the public square now for the most part. So its here, on a blog, I have decided to share from time to time, as odd as it is, to put a part of myself on the “internet,” separate from my body and separate from my soul, and it is here that “my blog” will interact with you in the same way. I was born into a world without computers in the early 80s, desperate for love and community as all humans are, and have grown up in a world where people have nearly become cyborgs.

Despite all of the modern changes of society, I hope to do my best to shield my son and any future children from the onslaught of technology. A developed soul is more important than developed computer skills and I don’t care too much if he is behind in technology when he is young. He will catch up…If I started learning to type when I was 9 years old, so can he. I would much rather him grow up being able to discern the difference between real and illusory, a smooth flower petal and a digital picture, and especially the difference between a real friend and a status update. Lord, have mercy!