Here’s a character study: My son and I recently watched a short documentary about a man known as The Jesus of Siberia. The story goes that in early 90’s Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop realized he was the Son of God and had a message to deliver. A lot of people wanted to hear that message. So many people that he created a kind of commune in Siberia (the warm part of Siberia – who knew?), to which the filmmakers traveled one summer.
Vissarion, as the prophet is now known, had not given interviews in many years. In fact, he rarely appeared to his followers, who lived together in a green valley, his Jesus-like image framed and hanging in every room of every house. He had written a book of wisdom, a Third Testament, which included much practical advice, such as that men should only do manly things like work with power tools, and that women should only do womanly things like cook and clean and so on. Also, it told what kind of detergent to use.
The filmmakers timed their trip around this commune’s High Holiday, the anniversary of the day Vissarion had his revelation. On the day of, every follower made a trek up a hillside to a kind of outdoor amphitheater, where they waited. Soon, He appeared, descending slowly from a mountaintop. Down, down, down he came while his followers waited, still he descended, step-by-step, until, at last, he took his seat on a high stage, cleared his throat – and the filmmakers were told to turn off their cameras. He would not appear to his followers for another year.
The next day, Vissarion granted an interview. The filmmakers climbed the mountain. Up, up, up they went, winding up the mountainside until they reached his mountaintop villa. They set up their cameras, and he emerged, dressed in a virgin white. The interview began.
I admit, I was holding a bit of judgment toward the fellow at this point, but I wanted to keep an open mind. I like spiritual teaching, after all; it’s been a great help to me in my own life. Also, I knew spiritual teaching is by necessity metaphorical and allegorical, since, like the best fiction, the truths toward which the teacher is guiding his or her students can’t be seen or touched or measured, only felt. Unfortunately, I found his answers impenetrable. Good metaphors, like good stories, are an open door; his felt like mazes in which he was happy to stay lost. Maybe it was just beyond me. Either way, I can’t remember anything he said.
Except, that is, his last answer. The filmmakers were told their time was up, and the interviewer threw in one last question. “If you could give the whole of humanity one piece of advice, what would it be?”
Vissarion thought a moment. “Do not put yourself above anyone else.”
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.