From Colleen in Baltimore:
The first time I read through these 40 Maxims, I found myself smiling when I got to this one. Nearly all of the others contained very specific spiritual guidance, but this one at first seemed a little out of place. How could an activity, pursued primarily for one's own pleasure and fulfillment, be on equal footing with "practice silence, inner and outer" or "cultivate communion with the saints"? What was this doing on the list?
Monastics, I understand, are encouraged to have something to do with their hands even when they are in "recreation." Handwork serves as a way to focus both one's eyes and one's thoughts, deflecting those that are detrimental and helping to create an atmosphere conducive to prayer. A friend of mine who spent many years in a convent reminded me of a quote which she often heard there: "Idle hands are the devil's handiwork." But it seems that a wholesome hobby offers more than simply preventing bad behavior by occupying our minds.
I have a multitude of "theoretical" hobbies, things that I would be doing if I could find more time in my life. Music and gardening have found a permanent place in my heart, though, so I began to think about these two, and how they related to this maxim. I realize that they provide balance in my life, often pulling me out of the mire of despair and self-pity. Gardening gets me outside, rejuvenating me with physical labor and the stirrings of Creation. Vigen Guroian describes this in Inheriting Paradise, a touching collection of meditations on gardening; his thinking is that "gardening is nearer to godliness than theology." We battle weeds and diseases, we feed and nurture the growing plants, and we hope in the seeds that we plant, seeing parallels to our path to salvation in nearly every task. And music, both in its text and melody, offers me a voice when I cannot express myself, and something to practice and perfect, as there will always be room for improvement. These are also valuable insights into my spiritual growth.
But this past week I had a small revelation about what draws me to these two interests, and why they are significant spiritually. One of my piano students had just begun her lesson, playing Chopin's Raindrop Prelude, which we had been working on for months. But that day it was different. Her hands moved gracefully along the keys and the sound was exquisite...I quietly walked over and propped the grand piano's lid all the way open to hear every treble note. For the first time in more than twenty years of teaching I was moved to tears. And it occurred to me that the things that we love (music is both vocation and hobby for me...) allow us to see the God-given beauty in His creation. That day, hearing that piece was a direct gift from God, and I instinctively recognized it as such. So too are the shoots poking up under the leaves that I raked yesterday and the Lenten Rose that is blooming, right on time. Whatever our wholesome hobby may be, it is the one that restores balance to our lives, gives us a chance to create something, stirs in us an appreciation of the God-given beauty around us, and sometimes, causes us to weep with joy.
The Forty Maxims
- 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
- 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
- 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
- 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
- 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
- 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
- 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
- 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
- 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
- 10. Be faithful in little things.
- 11. Do your work, then forget it.
- 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
- 13. Face reality.
- 14. Be grateful.
- 15. Be cheerful.
- 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
- 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
- 18. Listen when people talk to you.
- 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
- 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
- 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
- 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
- 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
- 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
- 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
- 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
- 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
- 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
- 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
- 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
- 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
- 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
- 33. Be strict with yourself.
- 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
- 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
- 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
- 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
- 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
- 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
- 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.