The hollow gaze of a beast

I am beginning to think that I am secretly a bear. I definitely have the social skills of one. I am as voluble as a bear during hibernation, and as attached to my room as a bear to its cave. In all honesty, I am continuously amazed anyone still wants to talk to me given how bad I am at keeping in touch. The simple reality is that I function in a state of amazement. I have rewritten this paragraph so many times; I can find no better way to describe this. I function like a stunned being. I go through the motions I see in other people; I do what it takes to be functional in this world. But deep down, I am paralysed.

I once saw a huge bull being taken to the slaughterhouse. I was in my monastery in Moldavia at the time. The animals know. The know perfectly well that behind that big door there is death. Many of them go wild, and desperation takes over. Some times, their hearts fail and they collapse, so they have to be dragged inside. I remember this bull: a huge, beautiful animal. I remember its stare. Its muscles had completely frozen; there was no movement at all – not a blink, not a sound. At the centre of that heard of bellowing animals, fighting to escape death, I remember that hollow, frozen gaze as the bull was pushed by three men towards the gate, inside the slaughterhouse.

I function very much like that stunned animal. When I look in the mirror (which I purposely try not to do) I recognise that gaze. There is something of that in everyone. Often times, I switch off as people talk to me about their holidays and homes and plans. I switch off and I try to recognise that frozen gaze in their eyes: beyond the noise, beyond the superficial glitter of life, that hollowness is always there. It is imprinted in us. It is part of what makes us who we are, part of what makes us human.

I suppose this is my apology for failing to always keep ‘on schedule’ with posting here, recording our podcasts and so on. I am sorry. I am aware I should be doing more, especially as many of you continue to support the monastery even through these periods of silence. Perhaps you feel something. Perhaps you yourselves recognise something in this silence.

I have prayed to make sense of this desperation. I live with a perfect hope that we shall all survive the slaughterhouse, but this hope comes with an equally perfect awareness of the hollowness of this life. I have prayed to make sense of this. I have also prayed that I loose neither the hope, nor the desperation; living with both creates an intense tension, and that tension feeds my heart. I have an intuition that this tension will lead me to Life.

If I have learned something so far, it is that I must protect and treasure this life, because the seed of Life is buried in it. The hollowness of this life, its senselessness, its pain have taught me that I myself can only get as far as the gate of the slaughterhouse. If there is any hope to make it beyond that gate, if there is any hope to survive it, it does not come from me. I cannot be my own saviour. I cannot be anyone’s saviour. This is a tough lesson to learn and impossible to fully accept without the grace of God. I am nothing without a Saviour. It is a tough lesson, but we cannot run away from it. Horrid as it feels, this is the foundation of all our hope.

Just think how different things could have been, had Adam stared into his own hollowness and accepted it, instead of collapsing at the feet of the devil. Had Adam accepted this truth, had he accepted that he cannot be his own saviour, has he reached out for a Saviour, this world would have known a different history. Perhaps this is the point of it all: to learn the lesson Adam has not; to stare into the hollowness of our being and not despair, to not collapse as he did, because we know that a Saviour has taken on the form of this hollowness and lifted it up to Life.

8 responses

  • Where there is despair, there is hope. Where there is a emptiness, there is the fullness of the Lord.
    Where there is doubt, there is the Gospel.
    When we feel small, afraid, and lost, there is prayer and in prayer there is the gift of God.

  • Dear brother,
    Thank you for what you write, with your heart so open…
    It always feels like it’s God’s timing when l read your posts
    And that no matter where we are in this world, we are all struggling on the same path; together.

  • I too feel this hollowness at times, and lately more often it seems. I have wondered many times what this hollowness is and whether it is a sign of my inability to rejoice in the blessings that God has given me. How can I know that I am His creation, that I have been given His Spirit, that everything around me is God’s perfect creation and His offering of love, and yet I feel empty. One day I hope I can become “all flame”. May Christ have mercy on us all.

  • Fr. Seraphim,
    I am thankful for anytime you write out to all of us. I would rather wait and have the Holy Spirit working through you,
    then have you just write to fill up space with meaningless words.
    So many people write and do podcasts and I think, some are great but others are empty with their message. I work in NYC and I see lots of people with that look and feeling of a hallow life. I feel for my self all I can do is pray and ask God to guide me to those who have struggled but found God in the struggle.
    Saint Silouan is great in his explanation of keeping self in hell not dispare.
    I pray that one day I will be able to come to your monstery as it has touch my heart.
    May God continue to Bless you again again and again.
    In Christ

  • What about love. Does it not fill the emptiness with joy? Love is God, God is love. When we love God as one, it is Eucharistic, and then we love each other in God’s love. Please forgive me my transgressions.

  • Dear Father Seraphim,
    We are all in this same condition you write about. God has given you a voice to speak of the terror and astonishing condition it is to be human, truly present in this world. We don’t know anything, yet we yearn for Him. We try to navigate this world, this pain, still we want to know what this relationship is all about. We still ask from our depths ‘why did you create me? What purpose is it that I hurt people, and that I find it difficult even to love those who love me?’ But because His Spirit somehow finds a place in my heart, where His mysteries reside, that I can at least attempt to love? Astounding that His love breaks through at all, as pitiful, blind, and obstinate that I am. Is this our condition because of the fall? Lord have mercy! May God bless you and the monastery.
    R Ashby

  • Father….
    As I read this I remember our all to brief interaction at St. Katherines. What you are saying here I could see in your eyes as we spoke. My eyes were with you and my heart carries a bit of that moment. It is rare for me to feel understood without feeling terrified. You make me feel like I’m not nuts! Thank you!
    I wish we could see each other more.
    My prayers…feeble as they are….are with you!

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