The Third Step of the 73:
3. Then, not to kill...
I still remember vividly an incident that happened when I was a child and my family was on vacation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On a particular day we had just arrived at the summit of the mountain where the “Old Man of the Mountains,” a natural rock formation is located (it is on the New Hampshire quarter). We were sitting on some rocks and nearby was a long haired bearded guy—a hippie.
There were plenty of hippies in New England in the 1960’s, so there was nothing novel about that, but the action of this one was very memorable. He kept brushing away flies that were surrounding him. The more they continued to land on him, the more he would gently urge them to find another place to alight. His gentle tone and the words he spoke to the pests made it clear that he did not want to harm them.
My mother bent down to say that she had figured out that he felt that it was wrong to kill even a fly. Later I would read about people of various Eastern religions that shared this belief, “that all life was sacred," which of course is what we believe too--but we usually make endless distinctions.
St. Benedict’s counsel is simple. He does not elaborate about who or what we are not to kill. He keeps it simple and allows us the simple injunction to simple “not kill.”
This counsel follows after the first two; love God and love your neighbor. Now we are told not to kill. God is the source of all life and the Scriptures make it clear from the first pages of Genesis that to take back the spirit of Life is the domain of God and that blood spilt cries out to heaven.
It is also clear that in the first pages of Genesis that our neighbor is not only the people that surround us but every being in creation. We should respect all of creation in the same manner.
The hippie who allowed the fly to live on that vacation day in New Hampshire does not remain in my memory as some nut but rather as a prototype of a holy man who understands this fundamental truth. If you and I want to grow in holiness then we must reverence the life force that God has placed in all of creation.
“Not to kill” also extends beyond physical murder. We are to be a life force in God’s creation. Building up rather than tearing down. Uplifting rather than destroying.
I remember a friend in school who was fond of bringing up in the midst of conversations that were less than charitable about others a simple question, “How is this building up the body of Christ?” It really ticked off everyone at the table but like the hippie with the fly it has remained in my memory whereas the topics of our table conversations have long passed on into obscurity.
There are many ways to kill without actually taking someone’s physical life. Unfortunately there are too many walking dead in our midst who have had their spirit killed by those who were not careful in their speech or their judgments.
Lifting up these poor souls, reversing the damage done is a way to positively live out this injunction. It is not simply a matter of what not to do but to have an attitude of doing the opposite. The person who puts God first will carry with them an imitation of God who “breathes life” into inanimate clay.
What will this day be like if in every instance I put God first, treat all those who inhabit my environment with the attitude that I want to be a life giving force, a person of affirmation? Without God this is impossible and that is why prayer is something that is a 24/7 activity. We need to constantly turn to God, at every moment, in every encounter; to be silent until God is brought into the moment and then to be life giving as God is.