Strange how our brains work! This morning my nephew’s six kids, ages 4 to 14, came to mind as I was reading about second century Egyptian hermits. Truly, such an improbable connection surprised even me.
Yes, the kids are pretty typical in every way with their child-like antics and periodic meltdowns. Though we love them, the general chaos of the household leads us to stay with their grandparents when we are in Omaha. Add our niece’s three kids who are regularly part of the mix and you have quite a catalytic explosion on your hands.
But as we have visited or hosted the families and viewed photos on Facebook, we’ve noticed something exceptional. They really get along! They are a cohesive unit. Yes, they fight and sometimes throw fits if they don’t get their way. But the care and bond each has for the other is palpable. Every child should be so lucky to grow up in families with siblings and cousins like these children.
So, here’s the piece from the second century desert hermits that worked its strange alchemy on me this morning. The bizarre juxtaposition still brings a quizzical smile to my face:
Abba Pambo, one of the early monks of Nitria, received a visit from four monks of Scetis. As each one talked to Pambo, he spoke of the others’ virtues. One had fasted, another had lived in poverty, the third was known for charity. The fourth monk, who “had lived for twenty-two years in obedience to another man,” was praised as the greatest. Pambo said, “Each of the others has obtained the virtue he wished to acquire; but the last one, restraining his own will, does the will of another. Now it is of such men that the martyrs are made, if they persevere to the end.”
What we have noticed about our nephew and niece’s kids goes beyond the fact they get along and like each other. They truly care for each other — they watch out for each other and have each other’s back. They have learned how to share — perhaps the proximity of so many others has something to do with making this a necessity. Yes, each is right on schedule with the normal stages of strong ego development! But they have a quality of self-giving within a web of community that is remarkable in 21st century America.
We can spout all sorts of platitudes about family values and how parents are our first and best teachers. All this is true. Though my nephew, my niece, and their spouses would absolutely deny it and call me deluded and uninformed; they and their kids come about as close to the ideal as is humanly possible.
Yes, their kids are still children! However, from my vantage of 65 years I see them ideally positioned to one day comprehend the fullness of the Christian proclamation…
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
and became obedient to death–
even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
In another place Scripture says, “…and a little child shall guide them.” Today my grandnieces and grandnephews have much to teach this old man.
The story about Abba Pambo is originally from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Translated by Benedicta Ward. Rev. ed CS 59. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984. #196 (Pambo 3). I read the account in Reclaiming Humility: Four Studies in the Monastic Tradition by Jane Foulcher. Cistercian Publications. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 2015. pp 75-76.