Chasin’ Granny


You have to think pre-video game days. We had a TV in the house and mom didn’t mind using it as a baby-sitting tool. We only got 2 channels (both in black and white-no color), and most of the time there wasn’t much for us to watch. We became easily bored especially during long hot summer days. We’d complain to mom, but she was unmoved by our pain. She would tell us to go outside and play. That didn’t help us because it didn’t take long until there wasn’t much to do. So, when we complained again, she replied as she showed us the door, “Well, go chase your granny ‘round  a stump.”

Chasin’ granny ‘round a stump – it’s a curious phrase and I don’t know the origin of it, but we children knew what it meant. You see back in those days, parents didn’t feel obligated to entertain their children. It was up to us to entertain ourselves, even if that meant hours of idle and meaningless activity. There were no smart phones or Ipads available. We were left to our own devices and imaginations.

There is a story in the Old Testament about Moses and the Congregation of Israel. It says that they camped around the same mountain for 3 and ½ years. Three and ½ years!! You can imagine that this situation became extremely boring. Truly, they were chasin’ granny ‘round a stump.

Why did they do it?  They should have been in the Promised Land enjoying the good life. The fact is they had their chance. God brought them to the River Jordan, and even though the scouts came back loaded with grapes and fruit, the people would not cross over. Besides the milk and honey, there were giants and high-walled cities and fierce warrior kings in the Promised Land.

God forgot to mention that part of the deal. He failed to mention that getting the milk and honey would take effort and force. Well the Israelites were not going to have any of that. I guess they envisioned a paradise where they would lay in a hammock and sip mint-juleps. Battling giants wasn’t their idea of the good life. And so they turned back; to what, I have no idea.  How often do we humans dream of walking into a cozy situation without a fight or struggle?

Here’s the good part of the story. God didn’t abandon them because they refused to cross the River Jordan. He continued to be the God of Israel. That’s the way God is- always faithful and always keeping true to His side of the contract. But what could He do with them? So for 40 years, they wandered in the desert. For 40 years, they chased granny ‘round a stump.

We shouldn’t be too hard on them. God brings us to our own River Jordan and shows us a new land of a deeper spiritual life. It looks really sweet, and we are tempted to cross over. However, we can also see struggles and giants and high walled cities over there. As the monks have told us, the kingdom will have to be taken by force.

Thanks, Lord, but no thanks! I’ll stay over her where I am comfortable. Chasin’ granny seems a whole lot easier.  God will remain my God, so it won’t be too bad if I stay in my comfort zone. Of course, we begin to get bored with Church and yawn at our spiritual life. Its just the same thing Sunday after Sunday -the same liturgies and the same prayers and the same calendar. We are chasin’ granny around the stump.

In the beginning of the story of St. Mary of Egypt, Elder Zosimas says that he was convinced that he had reached the pinnacle of monastic life. He believed that there was no monk anywhere that had anything to teach him. All that was left for him was to run around the stump chasing granny. Of course, God had other plans for him. He would end up chasing a granny, but oh, what a granny she was!

“If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace.” These are the words that the Theotokos spoke to Mary, the harlot, in Jerusalem. Mary crossed over and for 47 years struggled to take the kingdom by force. There were fierce animals that she had to battle (that’s what she called her passions). The force she used to defeat them was the power of repentance. Given her former life, it was a mighty battle indeed.

When Zosimas met her, St. Mary had won the battle. Looking at St. Mary, he saw the far horizon of spirituality and it shook him to the core of his being. He had hardly taken the first step on the path to God.

The words spoken to Mary of Egypt are addressed to each of us: “If you cross the Jordan, you will find true peace.” How will you respond? I can’t sugar-coat it for you. It will be a battle and a struggle. In the soul, there are giants and high-walled cities, so Christian life is never free from struggle.How can it be any other way? As the Master put it, “pick up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me.”  Try any part or all of that command and you soon know what struggle is all about.

Sadly, many of us think that we can just stay where we are. After all, I’ve been baptized, attended Church and have been Orthodox for many years. What else does God expect of me?  The story of the wandering of Israel in the Sinai will disavow you of the thought that you can just stay where you are. The testimony of that story shows that the generation that turned away from the Jordan never inherited the Promised Land. They never found true peace.

It would be the next generation that would cross over to posses it. The promise made to Joshua is made to you. ” Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given you, as I said to Moses.” God is with us and promises us that we will be victorious. It is a fight, but how strong are our enemies? By faith,the walls came down with the blast of trumpets. Trumpets?  How tough were those giants? By faith, a little shepherd boy killed one with a pebble and a sling.

The stone in our sling is the same as St. Mary’s – repentance- and before it no giant  and no high wall can stand. An Orthodox Christian is one who repents and repents and repents….

The choice is ours: we can cross over and find peace; or we can play it safe, and stay in the Sinai desert.  Either way, God is with us, but if we do not cross over, we may never know true peace. We will spend the rest of our time wandering in the Sinai, chasin’ granny around a stump.

Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, pray to God for us!


One Response to “Chasin’ Granny”

  1. Theophan Says:

    Wow — COOL! Congratulations, Father John, on your first posts on your blog at All Saints’!

    I’m guessing this particular post might originally have been written during Lent, but it sure is appropriate every day of our lives. I’m way too comfortable on my usual side of the Jordan, and I need to heed your reminder of God’s message to “cross over.” Thanks for your time and your edifying words.


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