A monk visited Abba Sisoes and told him he had fallen from grace. “What should I do, Abba?” Sisoes replied, “Get up again.” After a while the monk returned to ask, “What can I do now? For I have fallen again.” “Get up again,” The old man said, “Never stop getting up.”
This is my current favorite story from the desert tradition. I like its sly humor. One can almost see the old monk winking at us as we grasp after any and every form of spiritual perfection. But there is generosity and kindness here, too. Yes, we fall; yet, this is all part of the human condition and it is precisely here, in the midst of our fallings, that there can emerge a profound sense of the abiding presence of God. The desert monks were convinced that temptations and struggles were important not because they needed to be avoided, but because they can teach us so much. They seem to be saying to us that wherever we are God is there also. Wherever we are, in deep sorrow or in an acknowledgement that once again we did not measure up - and usually by ‘not measuring up’ we mean to our own impossible demands. Even in loss, and, of course, in joy, God is already there waiting for us.
Last month, Sr. Laura Swan visited our Contemplative Outreach community. I was especially moved by her insistence that it is in this world where we encounter the sacred. She said, “Modern asceticism is being called to what already is.” This involves the sense that “we have enough, we are enough.” Right here, right now. Perhaps, the last illusion from which we need to be freed is the illusion that who we are is not quite right, and far too imperfect to be a vessel of God’s grace, love and abiding presence in this world. Sometimes we feel as if a miracle is required in order for us to be enough to carry within ourselves the presence of God. But the message of faith is that the miracle has already occurred. Here we are, called into holy being by the simplest gesture of God’s ever creating word.
We do fall, but we can get up again. We can “never stop getting up again.”