Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Colobos Tree

Here's a new poem about the life of Saint John Colobos (also known as John the Dwarf, John the Short, or alternatively spelled Colobus/Kolobos/Kolobus), one of the great fourth-century desert fathers of Egypt. I hope his example of selfless obedience inspires you.


The Colobos Tree

The man who came to Scete that day,
To Egypt's crucible of faith,
Was dark of skin and small of size,
And bore love's courage in his eyes.
He came in poverty and peace
And laid himself at Pambo's feet--
Old Abba Pambo, bless'd and wise,
Who labored under desert skies
To fast and pray, to triumph in
The holy fight for discipline,
To win the war for Christ the King
Upon the battlefield within.
Old Pambo asked about his guest,
And there the little man confessed,
"I'm John by name, called Colobos,
'The Dwarf,' they say; I make no fuss
About such names--it's true, you see,
And I've no pretence e'er to be
        More than what God made of me."

"What seek you here, my honest son?"
Old Pambo asked the prostrate one.
John Colobos stood up, and then
He reached out for the Abba's hand.
"The words you spoke--you called me son.
That's what I want: to be a monk,
To have a holy father, you,
To train me in the path of truth,
That I might fast and pray and fight
For all that's good and all that's right."
Old Pambo knew what this man asked,
How long the road, how hard the task!
Not one man in a thousand could
Bear up beneath that cross's wood--
To crucify the flesh each day
In this uncompromising way.
Could this man truly give his best
Against the ragings of the flesh?
        Old Pambo opted for a test.

"To be a monk, you must obey
In every aspect, every way,
The words of Scripture and the church--
You must be last, Christ must be first;
You must rebuke the stubborn flesh
Yes, even when its way seems best.
So here I grant you your first task,
But for its purpose, do not ask.
Take thou this stick, it's dead and dry:
Water it till it comes to life.
For dead are we without God's love--
No joy below, no life above.
So now you'll prove your depth of faith,
To show that you can walk this way.
Rebuke the flesh's insurrection
Through your faith in resurrection.
Yes, take this stick, and water it;
Treat this command to tend for it
        As if it came from Holy Writ."

Then John the Dwarf, he took the stick;
He went outside, and planted it.
His hut in Scete was desert-bound,
With water nowhere to be found.
So twice each day he made the trek,
Twelve miles down and twelve miles back,
To a river, and there he found
Water to pour out on dry ground
Back at his hut, where stood the stick
In the lonely place he'd planted it.
Through the desert, with his pail,
He trudged that never-ending trail,
On every day, 'neath blazing sun,
Obeying till the job was done.
For three long years did he obey,
Then a miracle dawned one day:
The stick took root, and leafed, and bloomed,
Amid the lifeless, sandy dunes:
        It bore obedience's fruit.

In this dark world you're often taught
To fill each whim your body's got:
"Indulge in lust, in gluttony,
In any pleasure within reach,
For flesh is all we've got right now,
So feed its fire and live life loud.
Old morals only make you fret;
If it feels good, then just do it."
In such a brave new world as this,
We see a fool in Colobos.
When Christ would bid us tame our flesh,
To fight its fiercest drives to death,
To fast and pray, to live life chaste,
It seems a senseless, pointless waste.
Why fight the drives that make us all
Human, happy, natural?
Why deprive yourself of good,
Of entertainment, sex, and food,
        Just 'cause someone says you should?

Oh, when such thoughts strike you or me,
Let us recall the Colobos tree.
Our flesh is part of what we are,
But not the whole, no, not at all!
The grace of God grants discipline
To grow beyond what we have been,
To rise, surpass mere wants and drives,
To wake to resurrection's life.
And there much greater joy is found
Than when base nature holds us bound.
So walk in calm obedience
The path of Christ's own innocence,
Even if it easier seems
To give yourself to fleshly dreams--
Remember Saint John Colobos,
Think of him, and all of us,
Then turn from darkness into light,
Bow to the God whose way is right,
        And watch the desert spring to life.

No comments: