Neal Obstat Theological Opining
Yesterday for the feast of the Lebanese monk St. Sharbel Makhluf, the homilist at Mass referred to this saint as a fountain of living water in the dry desert where he engaged in spiritual combat with evil. That image sent my imagination back to another memory…
My spiritual director from years ago, whom I quote often, once said to me after I complained of a vapid dryness in my prayer that made me want to cut my prayer time short as it felt like a total ‘waste’:
Don’t quit! That can be your best prayer time if you sit still. Tom, I’ve eaten dust in prayer for 20 years. But for One you love, you’ll do anything for as long as is asked of you. Here’s a secret — the gift of dry prayer is that it’s more selfless, more abandoned than sweet prayer. But it’s whatever God wants. Let…
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Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’
—Abba John the Dwarf
Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught for centuries that silence is a very good avenue to a close relationship to our creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The men and women who went to the desert felt very much the same . Their journey was to escape those things to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.
Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer. Work and prayer are the heart of the monk’s calling. The well-meaning visitor simply wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He had no sense of the way of truly engaging the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple, give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.
Lord help me earn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that is crowds you out. Amen