“Because of Covid-19, many of us are living, in a way, like monks, enclosed and isolated in our homes. But unlike the monks, we did not ask for or want this situation, nor it is one for which many of us were spiritually prepared. [Even so] we can use this moment to live into and be freed by the realization that there is much we cannot control. So much of our anxiety revolves around wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the pandemic can teach us the futility of this. . . . we need to be attentive to the present moment and so focus on that which we can control: ‘If I can concentrate on being in control of that very small circle of reality that is entrusted to me and in some sense depends on me—how I use my time, how I take care of myself, how I care for my family and friends, how I daily and hourly turn my concerns over to God—then my anxiety diminishes.’ This is ‘a great opportunity to yield control of our lives, to let ourselves truly trust in the goodness and providence of God amidst all that is happening.’ Whether we are aware of it or not, ‘we are living in the presence of a living, caring and loving God,’ . . . and we can use this time of quarantine to develop, alone or with those with whom we live, a sense of this divine presence.” Gregory Hills, quoting several monks he interviewed
“Merton sought refuge in the Trappist monastery . . . ‘in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation’ that he could not remember who he was. For the next half of his life he learned a new way of being . . . and [made the] discovery of a new self, his true self, drawn up like a jewel from seas of confusion, restlessness, and banality.” Kathleen Deignan, quoting Thomas Merton
“Cast all your anxiety on him
because he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Was your pre-covid life characterized by too much activity, useless talk, superficial stimulation?
- Have you quit trying to control the uncontrollable? Can you focus instead on what has been “entrusted” to you?
- Might God be calling to you in this time of pain–inviting you to be drawn up “like a jewel from seas of confusion, restlessness, and banality?”
Abba, may my seemingly unmanageable anxiety force me to cast myself upon you.
For More: Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours by Kathleen Deignan
“Who enjoys tranquility? The one who doesn’t take seriously either praise or lack of it from people.” Thomas ‘a Kempis
“In the desert, one inescapably confronted the threat of nothingness, the loss of all one’s activities, distractions, evasions . . . . There in the desert they knew the very scaffolding of their lives to be wholly dismantled. Games were called for what they were. Utter honesty was demanded by unrelenting spiritual directors, hard as the rock beyond the cloister where they prayed. The unbending John Climacus, for example, insisted on laying bare the pretenses of people in the religious life. He spoke of those who bless silence but cannot stop talking about it; those who fast without drawing attention to themselves but then take pride in such remarkable modesty; those who weep over death and then, with tears still in their eyes, rush off to dinner. Amma Syncletica refused to let anyone deceive herself by imagining that retreat to a desert monastery meant the guarantee of freedom from the world. The hardest world to leave, she knew, is the one within the heart. In the desert Christian’s understanding of renunciation, dying to oneself also meant a dying to one’s neighbor. They knew how easy it was to invest oneself in what other people think, measuring oneself by the accomplishments of others, remaining enmeshed in a hopeless pattern of jealousy, subservience, manipulation, and resentment. ‘To die to one’s neighbor is this,’ said Abba Moses the Black, ‘to bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad.’ Comparing oneself to others, being concerned about their approval or disapproval, was entirely foreign to the desert way. Watching the sweep of wind over desert sand inevitably gave one practice in studied indifference.” Belden Lane
“Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’
to keep away from worldly desires
that wage war against your very souls.”
1 Peter 2:11 NLT
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- When you think of “worldliness”, do you think about your heart? . . . how entrenched the world is there? . . . how “hard” it is to war against that?
- Would it be hard to quit pretending about your spiritual life?
- Would it be hard to become “indifferent” to the approval of others?
Abba, help me to be real before you and others–no posturing, no pretending.
For More: The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane
“The first vow laid out in Benedict’s Rule is stability. To a monk or sister, it means being committed to stay in this particular monastic house with these particular people. It means being willing to look for God here in the constancy of this place in this rhythm of life, rather than seeking God in ever-changing places and varied routines. In Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life, Paul Wilkes calls stability a ‘sense of where you are,’ and he believes that our disjointed lives and fragmented society present ample evidence that we desperately need to embrace stability. ‘What was needed, Benedict taught, was maddeningly simple. It was a commitment to trust in God’s goodness–that he was indeed there, in that very place; and that holiness, happiness, and human fulfillment were to be found, not tomorrow or over the hill, but here–today. . . . Stability’s goal is that we might see the inner truth of who we are and [where] we are going. That we might be still long enough to be joined intimately to the God who dwells within . . . . It is difficult–no, it is impossible–to find and maintain that center if our waking hours are a blur of mindless activity, without the presence and practice of stability in our lives.’” Lynne Baab
“I begin to wonder if I, like the brothers at Taize and the desert monks, need to learn the discipline of stability. Do I need roots, when this earth is not my home? That third instruction from Saint Anthony sinks like a seed into the dark recesses of my heart and lies dormant for a long time: ‘In whatever place you live, do not easily leave it.’” Amy Peterson
“So Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me.
Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here.
Stay here with the women who work for me.'”
Ruth 2:8 NIV
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Do you tend to give up too easily on a place? . . . a call? . . . a relationship?
- Will you determine to “wait for the right moment?” . . . to wait for God’s permission before you decide to “move on?”
Abba, slow me down when my instinct is to flee.
For More: Beyond the Walls by Paul Wilkes
Peterson, Amy. “Wanderlust: A Personal History.” Essay in The Other Journal: Geography, No. 24.
Wilkes, Paul. Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
“The significance of desert and mountain is not who resides here, but what we ourselves have left behind in coming.” David Douglas
“One has to consider the surly, discourteous piety of the desert fathers and mothers. They were ‘resident aliens’ in a world that fostered gentility and comfort. They simply did not fit. As Bruce Berger observes, ‘the desert notoriously harbors the loner, the misfit, the only child.’ It attracts a people who are downwardly mobile, often cantankerous, ill at ease in polite society. Shun the city and all of it niceties, growled Jerome from his desert lair. His Christianity required the hard solace of open spaces. …The discipline of the desert was gradually acquired in the methodical weaving of palm fronds into mats and baskets, the practice of long exposure to desert loneliness, the reduction of everything in one’s life to a radical simplicity. Growth in the spiritual life came to be measured in microparameters, in how much could be give up, how much one could be emptied. …To use the provocative language of Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, the desert Christians understood the church as an alien community no longer caught up in the anxious, self-interested preservation of the world-as-it-is. Their practice of indifference to the dominant social values of their age, exercised from the desert’s edge, stood in stark contract to the accommodating spirit of post-Constantinian, urban Christianity. …The desert as metaphor is that uncharted terrain beyond the edges of the seemingly secure and structured world in which we take such confidence, a world of affluence and order we cannot image ever ending. …[People like these desert fathers and mothers] are what the church has been summoned to be, a community of broken people, painfully honest, undomesticated, rid of the pretense and suffocating niceness to which ‘religion’ is so often prone.” Belden Lane
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers
to abstain from fleshly lusts
which wage war against the soul.”
1 Peter 2:11
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Would anyone say of you that you are apathetic (indifferent) to many of your world’s values?
- How dependent are you upon the “affluence and order” of our world for your sense of security?
- These desert Christians viewed themselves as “aliens and strangers.” Would those words aptly describe you? …your faith community?
- What are these desert Christians saying that you need to hear?
Abba, show me what to leave behind.
For More: The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Desert and Mountain Spirituality by Belden Lane
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and God seeks you. I hope you’ll follow/share my blog. My goal is to regularly share something of unique value with you in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest! – Bill