When we move into Book Nine of The Desert Fathers, we continue our exploration of a spiritual life that is deeply challenging. The Book deals with the theme of non-judgement.
One of the great ironies of our time is that while we make a claim to tolerance, we live in a world where judgments are made about almost everything. We are conditioned to being judgmental, even though many in our day would strongly deny what I have just said.
It begins with what seems to be the harmless judgement of the value of one product over another. We call it advertising. But at its heart, it’s judgement. And if we allow the advertisers to have full sway, we can establish a self-image based upon the use of the “best” products, whatever they may be, and treat those who do not use those same products as somehow lacking or inferior. In the adolescent world, it’s called “peer pressure.” Judgement.
Our judgmentalism continues into every other area of life: politics, economics, business, and religion—to name a few. Some try to identify judgmentalism with the “right” or “fundamentalism,” but the fact is, it exists all along the spectrum of thought and opinion.
All this to say that, Book Nine of The Desert Fathers collides with much of our life today. It is remarkable that these early Christians set out to resolutely refuse to judge one another—even when the other person had clearly sinned.
One saying summarizes the Book: “A brother sinned and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, ‘I too, am a sinner.'” (9:2).
It will take more than several reflections upon this notion to grasp it. But for today, let us see the amazing empathy and humility which characterized many of the early Christians. Whatever else this may be, it is an utter belief in the potential of transforming grace. It is also a radical commitment to be a means of that grace to others when the opportunity to be so is available to us.
When we sing, “O, love that will not let me go,” we must be prepared for the Spirit to sing within us, “O love that will not let me let go of another person.” This is being for others what Christ is for us. Non-judgment is not condoning sin; it is never giving up on the sinner. It is never forgetting, “I too am a sinner.”