August 5, 2015 · 9:55 am
A devout man happened to be insulted by someone, and he said to him, ‘I could say much to you, but the commandment of God keeps my mouth shut.”’ Again she said this, “A Christian discussing the body with a Manichean expressed himself in these words, “Give the body discipline and you will see that the body is for him who made it.”’
— Amma Theodora
I think we all believe in sacred silence, but the desert advice is a bit different. This sort of silence is as important to our Christian witness as prayer. In this silence we embody the “turning of the other check, going the second mile, doing unto others as you would have them do unto as you.” Those sayings and many other red letter words of Jesus are practiced by simply keeping our mouth shut.
We underestimate the importance of training our bodies so that we may naturally function as God intended. We are made in the “image” of God and as we surrender our whole being to Him, He gives us the ability to do great things. Mark Twain said, ”The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the fellow who can’t read a line.” In that same vain, a person who does not control his body may as well be an animal who acts through raw instinct. The God stamp that dwells within us is our ability to think and reason and strive to change.
The wisdom of the desert tells us to practice the silence of the closed mouth and to discipline our bodies in a way to bring us to spiritual wholeness.
May 13, 2015 · 11:19 am
Today I share some wisdom from Desert Mother Amma Syncletica. The Desert Mothers were women Christian ascetics living in the desert of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. They typically lived in the monastic communities that began forming during that time, though sometimes they lived as hermits Their writings are largely lost because of the male dominance of the church in this time period.
Most of us can relate to medicine tasting bad, and in the same breath admit to it doing our bodies some good. The wise Amma brings fasting and medicine into the same conversation. Quite often I have had people approach me about the reason and necessity of fasting as a spiritual discipline. Some say that they get absolutely nothing out of fasting except pangs of hunger. Fasting, like any other discipline, must be approached in an attitude of faith. Fasting and prayer are often linked together .Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world and focus more completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God. With that awareness, we have received a dose of Spiritual medicine that leads us toward our goal of being “one with Him.” Might I suggest that a day of fasting and dedication to our awareness of God could do us all a bit of good.
An undue amount of time is spent by all of us seeking the approval of one person or another. The Amma tells us that if approval of all is necessary, we will spend our lives begging for a mere earthly goal. Instead she suggests that purity of the heart should be our goal. This whole concept of universal approval is an impossibility, however, purity of heart is a difficult but reachable goal. As we seek to live the Christian life, we should learn the wisdom of seeking purity rather than approval.
March 12, 2014 · 11:31 am
The brother said to the old man, ’So, man does not advance towards any reward without bodily affliction?’ The old man said to him, ‘Truly it is written: “Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) David also said: “I will not give sleep to my eyes, nor slumber to my eyelids,” until I find a place for the Lord.’ (Psalm 13:2-4)
— Abba Cronius of the Desert
This saying deals with the concept of suffering as an integral part of the Christian walk. Suffering as a precursor to reward is a most difficult and controversial concept. There are Christians that believe that without self-imposed suffering there is no reward. The main thrust of the monk’s words are that scripture leads us to believe that suffering and perseverance are an inbuilt part of our journeys. During this Lenten season we are all called to be aware that suffering is not punishment, but may well be God’s way of teaching us how to come closer to Him. After all, through Jesus, He suffered more than we can ever conceive.
February 19, 2014 · 10:59 am
David, when he was fighting the Lion, seized it by the throat and killed it immediately. If we take ourselves by the throat and by the belly, with the help of God, we shall overcome the invisible lion.”
The wise man points to a very important fact. The enemy we see is easier to defeat, and the hidden one may well overcome us. We are not so anxious to overcome the subtle evil that dwells in every soul. With great joy we can applaud the victory of King David over the lion, but with far less fervor we seek similar victories in our lives. Poeman pointed to David’s quick and decisive action that allowed him to overcome his foe, and advises us to do the same. Unfortunately our lion is invisible. Perhaps it is the lion of a bad habit or evil thoughts.
The way to defeat this invisible lion is to take ourselves by the throat and the belly. Why the throat and the belly? The throat is where our words originate. Words are wonderful when used properly and with good will. Words are deadly, nasty and surly as well. The control of our words is a key factor in overcoming any sin that besets us. The belly represents our physical appetites, those that consume our lives. I would venture to say that Poeman is proposing that we defeat our sins both mental and physical and do what it takes to achieve that goal.
Filed under Abba Poeman, Desert Fathers, Evil, Monasticism, Sin
Tagged as Christian Journey, Desert Fathers, Desert Monks, Desert Sayings, King David, lion, Sin
February 12, 2014 · 10:57 am
To instruct your neighbor is the same things as reproving him.
Do not do your own will; you need rather to humble yourself before your brother.
The concept of being a good neighbor is addressed in all sorts of literature. The ringing sound of these two quotes from Abba Poeman is to practice humility and selflessness with our neighbors. We are trained from a very early age to take care of ourselves and those who are dependent on us. Even the Bible tells us that a man who does not care for his family is worthless. In accomplishing these lofty goals, we sometimes neglect our relationships with others. At times we see ourselves as superior to those around us and feel the need to correct them.
The Abba’s words and the words of Jesus take us in a slightly different direction. Bible words like “go the second mile and loving my neighbor as myself” provide a different model. They serve to remind us that our lives are bigger than just doing what is best for me and mine, but find their true meaning when we are mindful of others.
February 5, 2014 · 9:45 am
Abba Carion said, ‘I have labored much harder than my son Zacharias and yet I have not attained to his measure of humility and silence.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
Very few of us would think of humility as a laborious task, yet the Abba speaks this word about himself. There are two distinct lines of thought in this very brief saying. First, humility is not only a sought after state for the contemplative but is a lifelong labor. The second is the apparent unfairness of some people being rewarded even if they labor less than we do.
Humility is a hard task, and we must wake every day to the familiar words of the Jesus Prayer, “… have mercy on me, a SINNER.” Until we see ourselves as worthy of nothing but graciously gifted with His saving grace, we will never attain any sort of true humility.
Feeling cheated or let down by God is an age old problem. So many times in our lives we have felt as though we have done all we can do, and we are still lacking. Exasperatingly, we are confronted with others who did less and received abundant blessings. The lesson here is that we do what we do out of love and worship of God, and not for reward from Him.