THE MYSTERIOUS CHICKEN FEATHER MAN (or, Try Some Hesychastic Encounters)

So, I’m ambling to the check-out line at the drugstore, when I see this enormous guy headed down the aisle, straight at me. Really enormous. Like, why isn’t the floor shuddering? Why isn't stuff falling off the shelves, crashing on the floor?

He’s dressed funny too: clashing plaids (shirt, pants), jogging shoes the size of musk melons, a pork-pie hat that looks somehow menacing.

So I get in one of those muddles, you know? Who’s going to get there, get in line first? I hate those muddles. They give me more choices to make in five nanoseconds than a space shuttle pilot has to make in five hours.

Do I risk looking rude and speed up? (People who do that make me grind my teeth so hard, they probably are making shrill squeaking sounds audible two aisles over.)

Or do I work on looking gracious and slow down ahead of time, let him get there first? (True confession: I’m never completely satisfied that I’m really being gracious when I do that … maybe I just wimped out and now am trying to make it look good to myself ... or worse, I just kissing up to myself. See what a good guy I'm getting to be, now that I'm Orthodox! I'm such a trickster to myself.)

Or do I just throw caution to the winds and see what happens next? (A little guy like me, I could get pretty bruised-up if this great big guy can’t see me over his... um ... horizon … or sees me and just doesn't give a hoot, little guy like me.)

His immense and obvious contribution to the warping of space-time, and his over-all wardrobe choices that make me think he's got his radar switched on, looking for anyone anywhere who's even dreaming about having thoughts about fashion, about personal tastes in clothing … I betcha he won’t care a whole lot if he doesn't see me right into the ground like that.

And then I see the obvious choice: I want to come out of whatever happens next looking like a tolerable approximation of a decent human being. Not a bad goal, plus, if this guy flattens me? I’m the stubby little innocent victim, poor poor me. Two out of three, ain’t bad.

I slow down.

But it turns out I'm misjudging how long it takes him to sumo-wrestle gravity all the way down the rest of the aisle. I get to check-out first. Piece of cake.

So, I’m standing there, and next, someone behind me I can't see calls out to this guy. “Hey!” he says, pretty generically.

But there’s nothing generic about the guy behind me. “Hey,” he says back, his voice diving to the center of the earth and coming back out with enough penetrating crackle to jiggle tectonic plates. Put that voice in my church choir, it’s a whole new dimension to basso profundo in these elegant Slavonic hymns.

“How you been?” says the other guy.

“Chicken and feathers,” my guy says. “You know how it is, chicken and feathers.”

“Yeah?” I don't think the other guy knows. I know I sure don't know. Never heard that one before.

“You know, one day you get the chicken, next day just get the feathers.”

“You lookin’ good though,” says the first guy.

“Can’t complain. The way I figure it, you make somebody’s life a little better? You had you a worthwhile day.”

Now that makes me cringe. Why didn’t I let a guy like this in first? What's wrong with me? That's the best I can do, read someone's character? I admire, really admire, people who are shaped like that on the inside. I want to crawl to the cash register.

“Yeah,” says the first guy, “you got it right now.”

“Yeah. I try and call my clients though, I got to use a different phone or they don’t answer.”


“I don’t? And they be sayin’, hey it’s Mr. Zambrini [not his real name], so don't you pick up!”


So now I’m thinking: No, let's make that, why didn’t I run to the cash register?! Sounds like a loan shark! This guy probably does knees with ball bats!

But then, about five minutes out of the store and I’m thinking:

You know? That guy’s a mystery. What in the world did all of those things mean? I got several clues there, and I don’t have the foggiest how they go together in that man’s life. And I betcha (I say to myself) give me five years around that guy, day-in and day-out, and I still won’t have the mystery worked out. What a mystery! And even if he’s a loan shark, which I betcha he’s not, what kind of loan shark says what he said about making somebody’s life a little better each day? That ain’t no loan shark!

My grammar, by the way, goes to pot when I talk to myself. Pay it no heed.

Anyhow, this little chat I’m having with myself goes on a little more:

That’s why the Master (which is what I call Him when I not only learn something new and especially worthwhile, but also when I figure He’s the one doing the teaching too) … why the Master says don't you dare judge. Because, dumbbell, you don’t know what’s going on. You’ll never know what’s going on. The person you want to judge? Mystery. Pure mystery. Just like you.

So you think hesychastic prayer is good? How about this: why don’t you learn how to practice hesychastic encounters? No words, no thoughts, no labels, no fantasies about who this guy his, about who anyone is, you included shorty, you included. Resist the first nudge, the first preverbal provocation, same as you try to do in prayer.

Because you know what? The one and only thing you know is: this guy, too, carries the Image of God as his truest deepest self. He is Christ incognito. That’s it. Everything else you think is a waste of God’s time, therefore yours too.

God told Moses His name is “I Am Who I Am.” So is the big guy in the drug store who, after all, is made in the Great I Am's image. He is who he is, and you don't know who that is. You'll never know. Only God knows. And just so are you made in the Great I Am's image (meaning me, but so are you too, reader). There is no other name to the big guy, to you, to any of us, because He who revealed Himself as just exactly who He is, is He who dwells deeply within this delightfully large brothers of yours who is a mystery for no one alive to judge. He is, after all, just who he is.

And who that is, Great I Am alone knows.




[will still write on any of these if asked]

[1] Role of Ben Hur in Spiritual Formation

[2] John the Shaman, Buddhist and (Finally) Baptist

[3] Spiritual Intuition

[4] Mysticism

[5] Salvation

[6] Prayer of the Heart

[7] Iconography, Liturgical Poetry,Art and Spiritual Life

[8] The Theotokos

[9] Saints

[10] Tradition

[11] The Bible.


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