The widest possibilities for spiritual growth lie in the give-and-take of everyday relationships.
The truth of this is brought out sweetly in a story about Saint Francis of Assisi. Three young men approached Francis and asked his blessing to become hermits and seek god, each in his own cave, deep in the mountains of Umbria. Francis smiled. He instructed them to be hermits indeed, but hermits altogether in a single hut. One should take the role of father, a second should think of himself as the mother, and the third should be their child. Every few months, they should exchange roles. Living in this way they were to establish among themselves. Perfect harmony, thinking always of the needs of one another.
We can almost see the three would-be recluses exchanging sidelong glances. Their teacher had issued them a greater challenge than any they had bargained for. Yet they carried out Francis’s instructions, discovering that human relationships are the perfect tool for sanding away our rough edges and getting at the core of divinity within us. We need look no further than our own family, friends, acquaintances, or even adversaries, to begin our practice.