Abbot Philip: ‘The Most Beautiful Trees in our Canyon’

“In the early monastic writings, we find the monks extolling perseverance. Sometimes early writers defined a monk as one who falls every day, but who gets up and keeps on trying. One of the wonderful stories, for me, is of an old monk who encouraged a young monk by telling him that he, the old monk, continued to struggle with his sinfulness even in advanced age.

Years ago an artist pointed out to me that the most beautiful trees in our canyon are not those that are perfectly straight and without blemish, but those that have lived through storms and winds and have lost limbs and been twisted—but still keep growing toward the light.

None of this means to extol failure or sin, but simply to acknowledge that failure and sin are part of our daily human experience.  What forms us as spiritual persons is the struggle against failure and sin.  We should not become complacent as we age.  We do come, I hope, to accept ourselves as women and men who will continue to struggle with failure and sin until we die.  Over the years, hearing the confessions of older, mature men and women has brought incredible consolation to me.

There are times in life when we are aware very much of our brokenness, our failures and our sins.  We need such awareness so that we are truthful before our Lord.  We must not confuse this spiritual aware with depression or natural sadness.  If we are depressed or sad, we need help.  If we are sinners, we need God. Learning to turn to God is at the heart of the spiritual life.  Learning to keep on trying to be faithful is a form of that turning to God, over and over.

At a practical level, this never implies that a Christian or a monk will always manifest complete joy.  That might be an ideal.  Most of us still struggle and find ourselves at times not able to be completely joyful. Often, however, I see older people who become more and more joyful as they accept themselves and continue in the struggle.”–Abbot Philip, OSB

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