Treasure in the backyard

Arthur Middleton


The gift, which we have received from Jesus Christ in holy Baptism, is not destroyed, but is only buried as a treasure in the ground. And both common sense and gratitude demand that we should take good care to unearth this treasure and bring it to light. This can be done in two ways. The gift of baptism is revealed first of all by a painstaking fulfilment of the commandments; the more we carry these out, the more clearly the gift shines upon us in its true splendour and brilliance. Secondly, it comes to light and is revealed through the continual invocation of the Lord Jesus, or by unceasing remembrance of God, which is one and the same thing. The first method is powerful but the second is more so, so much so that even fidelity to the commandments receives its full strength from prayer. For this reason, if we truly desire to bring to flower the seed of grace that is hidden within us, we should hasten to acquire the habit of this exercise of the heart, and always practise this prayer within it, without any image or form, until it warms our mind and inflames our soul with an inexpressible love towards God and men’ (St Gregory of Sinai).

Sharing in God’s life

If you want a life of prayer the way to get it is by praying. To pray is to share in God’s life, to participate in the life the Father lives with the Son in the Holy Spirit. St Augustine said that God is nearer to us than the air we breathe. What makes him seem absent is that our awareness of him is dulled and distracted and this sense of God’s absence prompts us to assume that the treasure of a living experience and knowledge of God lies in some ‘far country’, outside the backyard of one’s life.

The story of the poor Rabbi in Cracow illustrates this point. He dreamed there was treasure buried under the bridge in front of the royal palace in Prague and set off to try and acquire it. He found the bridge heavily guarded but after some days chatted up one of the guards and told him of his dream. ‘Why’, said the guard, ‘you are a fool! Only last night I dreamed about a Rabbi in Cracow, looking very much like you, who had treasure buried in his own backyard. But you don’t think I’d be fool enough to set off for Cracow in search of it.’

Life as it is

The treasure we seek is in our own backyard, the real and living circumstances of life in the workaday world. We find that treasure as we respond to the spiritual fullness of life as it is, not as we imagine it to be or as we would like it to be.

An early Christian mystic, St Isaac the Syrian, said: ‘Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven ... the ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul.’ ND

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