Monday, October 31, 2016

Word of Life: The Deseert Mothers and Fathers

“A certain brother went to Abbot Moses in Scete, and asked him for a good word. And the elder said to him: Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”[1]

     It appears our lives couldn’t be more different than the desert mothers and fathers of ancient Egypt. I have lived my entire life in the city; I doubt I would survive one night in the desert without wifi. It’s easy to view this ancient desert ammas and abbas as totally removed from our bustling modern life, but on a fundamental level they are not. They too were surrounded with bustling cities with lots to do. The soul’s need for rest and stillness is just as real then as it is now. It’s remarkable how the conditions of the soul have not changed over the years. External circumstances vary wildly throughout history, but the internal terrain of the soul remains the same. And so the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers gained from a life of contemplation is wisdom for today. It speaks to the soul today. Their words of life then remain words of life now.
     Those on the spiritual path today still need to hear a word of life rom time to time to guide them on the spiritual journey. The quote from Abbot Moses resonates with me deeply. I am not a monk, nor do I have any desire to be. I do not spend most of my time in a cell, but the words of Abbot Moses are still relevant for me today. His instruction highlights the absolute necessity of silence and stillness in order to dive deeper into one’s spirituality. I have a large capacity for work and I often find myself taking on more projects because I should, but because I can. I inevitably realize my need for rest and silence only after I have gone without far too long. Abbot Moses reminds me not to throw in a time of rest here and there, but to begin in stillness and let the necessary action flow from the discernment and rejuvenation of stillness.
     I am intrigued by silence. I have spent so many years in Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal churches which are very vocal that seeking to spend time in silence is relatively new for me. When I first began, five minutes was unbearable. How strange that our modern world today is so fast paced and so productivity driven that spending just five minutes in silence seems like torture. How ill equipped our modern society is for the task of tending to the soul. I still struggle with making time for silence, but I recognize my need for it more and more. Maybe this is how it begins. Perhaps I’ll never be proactive enough to start with stillness and let my actions flow from that place of clarity and rest, but at the very least when I feel overwhelmed I will turn to the words of Abbot Moses. I will go to my room, shut the door and just be still. I will let the silence speak and teach me what I need most to know. Sometimes the word of life we need to press on in our spiritual journey is only found in the silence of the inner heart.

   [1] Thomas Merton, trans., The Wisdom of the Desert. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 30

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