When the holy ABBA Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by sloth and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone, what shall I do I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plating a rope, and getting up again to pray. It was an Angel the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the Angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
…..Anthony of the Desert
The greatest longing of any follower of God is to be saved. Saved from the cares of this life. Saved from the sin that drags us down. Saved from the smothering nature of this world. Anthony abandoned his money and family ties looking to be saved but was soon feeling it was all in vain. His heart told him one thing, but his mind said another. He was stuck and wanted a way out. That scenario is all too familiar to us.
We begin a new year and a new decade, and we want things to go so well. Our resolution to God and ourselves is to leave behind the old and the inadequate. Like Anthony, we resolve to do better. Our heart’s desire is to live with God in our hearts and minds. The cares of the world and the requirements of life get in the way. Our cry to God is –show me the way! Perhaps the way is in front of us. Anthony saw an angelic vision of a man who was simply working. His task seemed mundane and tedious. Upon closer observation the monk noticed something. This man took numerous and brief breaks to pray. He did not allow the tasks of the world to be the sole dominance of his life.
The problem is not whether we will have to do the tasks of the world and live with the world as it is, but how we will respond to this journey? There have been numerous books and articles written on how to be a Monk (Christian) amid our post Christian era. These writers all have good suggestions and disciplines that will bring us closer to a serene relationship with God. I applaud them for their contribution to the conversation. I would suggest that we can note that all of them in one way or another point to the lives of the earliest of the Desert Monastics and Anthony was the first.
I don’t know why Bendicta Ward chose to make the saying quoted today the first in her book “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” As I read these sayings once again, it just struck me that this is where it all began. The feeling Anthony was experiencing was the key to finding peace with God. He found that peace by linking the tasks of everyday life to prayer. Perhaps we can say it this way. Work is prayer and prayer is work. Most of us want to put God in one box of our lives and enter that box at prescribed times, but Anthony broke that mold. As he watched the man work and pray seamlessly it was a eureka moment. He realized that prayer is a natural part of life. It is work. Prayer is the work of the Christian but not to the neglect of everything else.
Most of us live driven, divided lives that cause division in our souls. The secret of the monk was to make them one. I don’t have to have a special time or place to pray, but I can be about my task and take time to offer all that I am to God. Your decision may be that you have that time and place that you meet God. If so, I am happy for you. For the many in this world that are looking, I urge you to look to the advice of the old Monk who heard the voice of the angels say, “Do this and you will be saved.” Work is prayer and prayer is work.
Lord free my heart to be able to recognize you in the simple tasks that I am given every day. Give me the strength to see you when I am happy and to feel your presence when I am down and defeated. Let every day, moment and experience be an experience with you. Allow the tasks of this day to be melded together by your presence. That presence is my solace and salvation. Amen.