It turns out that toast fried in bacon fat has served me well in the spiritual life.
Today’s reading from Homily Three of Isaac the Syrian taught me a new word. It comes from the Syriac term shapyutha and it means clearness, limpidity, transparency, serenity. For St. Isaac, the soul’s primordial state is one of limpid purity and resembles the state in which Adam and Eve rested prior to tasting from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It makes sense of the limp-wristedness of Adam and Eve in the Chora Monastery Icon of the Harrowing of Hell during what we call The Easter Vigil-the night before the dawn of Resurrection.
I accept how pious it sounds before even writing it down, but still, I long for this shapyutha. I want this core value of the Christian existence in which we do not reject the world as planet but we do reject the world’s noise, silliness, greed, envy, labels, manipulations and so on. To be in the world and not of the world means to love the planet and her people but to not be mired in its fear-based noise.
Limpid sounds weak. Limp sounds weak…especially to men. I wonder how much of the noise and violence in the world has been caused by just this particular flavor of male fear and insecurity. A lot I think.
It turns out that “limpid” comes from “limpa” which is a Latin term which is its direct root and means the Roman goddess of water; referring to her clarity, stillness and power. I love the serenity of the ocean at evensong but have also seen what a Tsunami can do. Limpid is not weak – just quiet and willing to be maligned until an unseen – even unfelt earthquake shows it off in all its power. In the end, what is good prevails.
I long for, pray for and will work for shapyutha in my life. Someone recently asked me to what time in my life I can trace the dawning of a spiritual life. I found an image pop immediately into my head as if downloaded. It was the image of Montreal on a cold winter’s morning at 5:00 AM at the age of ten carrying a bag of 48 copies of the Montreal Gazette. They were heavy, the snow between houses was deep and the sky was midnight blue. The air was frost-laden and only my eyeballs could be seen from under my winter clothing. In deep snow I used a wagon on skis. But in that silence I began a conversation which still today lights my life.
When I got home my mother had made me a full breakfast. She was very British and a bit upety – like the sun is a bit hot. She made the most wonderful breakfasts. Perhaps not the best mother, she was a great human, full of suffering and of God, and a great cook who loved to cook and used it as self-expression and a form of love just as do I and my sister today. Those were wonderful English breakfasts. Kippers on toast, mushrooms on bread fried in bacon fat, creamed haddock. They were so perfectly timed for my arrival, so full of protein and delicious bacon fat – fuel for a long day in a country in which winter is beautiful – but tries to kill you twice a year. My mother made the Dowager Countess of Grantham look like a female version Mr. Rodgers.
But in the silence of the newspaper route and the silence of those massive hot, lovingly-prepared breakfasts, I began my day in such a way as to make very possible shapyutha which has, on my better days, proven to be the secret of life well-lived.