The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

In the world of make-believe, it's fun to dress up in costumes for Halloween with a variety of masks including scary faces. But in real life a scary face has consequences.

A friend of mine recently returned from a safari in Africa where she saw all kinds of wild animals in their natural habitat. On one occasion a panther came up to the parked vehicle that my friend and other travelers were in, and gently rubbed against the running board. It was as if the panther wanted to make conversation. My friend and the guide gave the panther friendly smiles. Then the panther turn to the back of the vehicle where another traveler was. All of a sudden the panther began to growl with a sharp fierce face. Turning back to the other travelers, the animal calmed down.

The guide later went back to the traveler who witnessed the growl of the animal. The woman then showed the guide a fierce and angry face to demonstrate what she had done when the panther looked at her. It is no wonder that the panther wore the same face as the traveler.

Not forgetting that we too are animals, it makes a difference how we look at one another. An angry face with angry words can build hostility in those we face. We then begin to judge one another that may include insults and outrage. We can move as the panther did from a friendly meeting to a scary face looking for self-defense.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian monk (1759-1833), gave a beautiful reflection on what to do when we are tempted to appear harsh in our treatment of others. Here are his wise words:

"You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage, and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil."

Remember to shun a scary face. "You cannot be too gentle."