“If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God.” — a trenchant saying attributed to the seventh-century Isaac the Syrian, Bishop, theologian, and monk, and regarded a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Simple words, if pondered, reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds. But who cares to go there? To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, entrapped in denial and rationalization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their authority, of whatever age. They just seem to know. In my earlier years, I had sought out such teachers.

One of these was Ocie, an elderly hospice patient, a city-dweller. Her seasoned laughter enlivened her cramped bungalow, filled with bookcases of salt and pepper shakers from travels with her deceased husband. Empty birdcages she had used for breeding canaries, stacks of dust-covered photo albums and swatches of samples precluded visits in her living room. Of no importance — her right side shriveled by stroke, her perilous gait, her cropped white hair, her fingernails still dirtied by back-porch gardening. No pretense about her whatsoever. She’d been in the fire and loved to share the story with all who sat around her kitchen table. I was among them.

Unlike the mystic, Simon the Syrian, a desert-prayer, Ocie lived within the rub of uproar and silence, thus mirroring God’s outrageous humor. A senior myself, I still have much to learn. That’s what happens when you sit in the fire.

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