Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: A Monastic Tale on Spiritual Elders

Sister Joan Chittister tells a monastic tale in an interview with Tami Simon from 2017, in an episode of Sounds True called “Lighting a Fire with Faith.”

The story goes like this: 

The disciples ask to someone in their midst, ‘I hear you are going to see a spiritual elder.’
The seeker says, ‘Yes I am.’
They ask, ‘What rituals does the spiritual elder teach you that are so important to you?’
The seeker says, ‘The elder doesn’t do any rituals at all.’
They ask, ‘Well then, what prayers does the elder teach you to say so that you have a feeling of grace and goodness?’
The seeker says, ‘Oh, the master has never given me a prayer at all.’
They ask, ‘Well then, what potions are you taking from the elder to give you a new spiritual life?’
The seeker says, ‘Oh, the master has never given me any potion at all.’
They ask, ‘Well if you’re not getting rituals, and you’re not getting prayers, and you’re not getting potions, why do you go so far to sit with this spiritual elder for nothing?’
The seeker says, ‘To watch the elder light the fire.’


Sister Joan adds to the end of her story, the lesson distilled:
“Wisdom comes from choosing the right people to watch, to grow from.”

Reflect with us: 
How is this lesson alive in your own spiritual life? 
Is there an elder or teacher who has helped shape and inspire your spiritual growth?



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