A gift we cannot help sharing
“The role of Christians in the world,” wrote the much-loved twentieth century monk and spiritual guide Elder Thaddeus, “is to filter the atmosphere on earth and expand the atmosphere of the Kingdom of God. We can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the atmosphere of heaven within us.”
One of the greatest gifts that flows from meditation, from our simple prayer of stillness and silence, is how the fruit of our practice manifests as an atmosphere of peace and harmony which touches the lives of others.
In his lovely book about silent prayer, Finding Your Hidden Treasure, Benignus O’Rourke recounts a story about Seraphim of Sarov, the famous 19th century Russian saint.
Seraphim taught that we should seek to establish peace in ourselves so that others might find peace and God through us.
The story tells of a young man who had heard of Seraphim’s holiness and decided to make a pilgrimage of 400 kilometres from Kiev, where he was a student, to the monastery at Sarov where Seraphim lived.
The young man was very troubled in himself and hoped that Seraphim could help him.
When he arrived at the monastery, he discovered that Seraphim was now living in a hermitage an hour’s walk away. So, the young man set off in the summer heat and walked through the Temniki forest until he found the little hermitage.
When he arrived, there was no sign of Seraphim. Walking around the little building, he eventually found the tiny figure of the monk curled up asleep at the bottom of the vegetable patch. Seraphim had been working in his garden and, taking some rest, had fallen asleep.
At first the student was very confused about what to do. He had travelled a long way to open his heart to Seraphim and seek his guidance, but didn’t feel he should wake him.
Then, as he stood quietly in the presence of the tiny sleeping monk, something began to happen. A deep peace began to arise within him. All that had been troubling him so deeply seemed to be evaporating.
The longer he stood there, the deeper the peace within him became. Sometime later, without having exchanged a single word with Seraphim, the young man quietly left and started his journey home. The peace-filled presence of Seraphim, even asleep, had soothed the young man’s suffering and brought him peace.
A little part of us might smile at the quaintness of this story, but a deeper aspect of us most likely recognises its truth. Those of us who have experienced being in the presence of someone of deep inner peace and harmony will understand it instantly. We have all experienced the atmospheres that people radiate (peaceful or otherwise).
One time at the end of a workshop for headteachers, a person of obvious compassion and deep commitment to others said she would love to be able to bring the practice into her life and enjoy the peace it brings, but that she found it hard to allow herself “me-time.”
I asked if she might find it helpful to re-frame her understanding of meditation and suggested she might think about it as the practice of “our-time.” Whatever our initial motivation to practice might be (our motivations are as varied as we are), the gift of inner peace we receive always radiates out as an atmosphere of peace which benefits others. What might initially appear to be “me-time” (and there’s nothing wrong with that) opens into “our-time.”
Peace is a gift we cannot help sharing. It’s generous, life-giving waters don’t just permeate our life, but always flow outwards. The peace we encounter is an encompassing peace. Almost imperceptibly, we create small ripples of harmony and peace around us.
When we find ourselves in the company of a peaceful person, we share in their peace and feel calmer in ourselves. The bearers of this God-filled, self-forgetful peace are most often completely unaware that they have become windows of Light.
We practice meditation to be God’s peace, to be places where peace “happens” for those around us.
 Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus Vitovnica (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Press, 2012).
 Finding Your Hidden Treasure, Benignus O’Rourke OP (Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2010).