- along a wilderness trail -
We used to live very near Hollywood - in fact at the end of our street you could see the massive "Hollywood" sign towering over the city of glitz and glamor below. During this time when the "Academy Awards" were given out, it was virtually impossible to drive up into the Hollywood neighborhood because most of the streets were closed as people from all over the world came to camp out at the "red carpet" (sometimes for days), hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrity as they breezed on by on their way into the award ceremony.
Today is the day when the Oscars are awarded and millions of people from all over the world will be watching their TV sets, eager to see the rich and the famous as they gather for this monumental tribute to the people who seem to have "arrived" in life.
Many social commentators suggest that average people are so enamored with celebrities because somehow they are able to live their rather dull and uneventful lives vicariously through them. A famous actress all decked out in a designer dress, expensive jewelry on her way to dine with all those other famous people, possibly to receive a world renowned academy award - a perfect icon of what all the ordinary people siting on the sidelines of life only dream they might be.
I personally think that all this "celebrity worship" may also be a very telling indicator of how lots of people approach the living of their every day lives - actors on a stage competing for the great honor, for the adulation of others, somehow hoping that some mythical award will go to them - always listening for the applause of the crowds as they compete for the award for the best mom or the best employee, the best student, the most pious Christian.
I think about something Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello, once said:
After I turned 20 I worried endlessly about the impression I made
and how other people were evaluating me.
Only sometime after turning 50 did I realize that
other people hardly even thought of me at all.
So often people presume themselves to be the center of everyone else's attention
performing to an audience that isn't even there.
On this Academy Awards' Sunday I sit out here in my desert home and I am again reminded of my spiritual ancestors - the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers. They removed themselves from the center of power in the church and renounced the norms of the popular culture of their day by moving away from the city to live simple lives in desert caves in order to follow the Gospel of Christ more authentically.
The world they left behind valued the esteem of others as a highly-cherished prize, but those desert monastics found deep peace in renouncing that kind of world. They recognized the truth that not any one of us is ever on the center stage in life and they discovered that their worth did not depend upon the favorable responses of other people. No one among them was a celebrity, each was valued with equal dignity from the wise old abbot to the fledging novice monk.
Paradoxically these desert monks eventually came to be regarded as "spiritual rock stars" by the people who remained behind in the cities. These monastics got a reputation for being genuinely happy human beings who had found a way of peace. And so, often times people from the city would go out to the desert to seek out some of these monks - something like trying to catch a glimpse of a celebrity.
There is a rather humorous story about one such attempt at celebrity sighting that seems especially appropriate to be told on this day when the Oscars are awarded.
A Magistrate from the city came looking for the wise old abbot Moses. He came across an old man sitting on a rock and asked the man if he might know where Abba Moses might be foiund. The man told him. 'Don't waste your time looking for Abba Moses - he is a simpleton and a fraud, none of the things you imagine him to be.' So the magistrate marched back into the city sure to tell others what he had learned.
When he got back home someone asked the magistrate if by any chance the man he talked to sitting on the rock happened to be a tall black man? 'Well yes he was,' replied the magistrate, who was then told, 'that old man on the rock was Abba Moses himself you were speaking with. You met the saint at his best.'
Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"