During Lent I read excerpts from a book by David G.R. Keller (an Episcopal priest and scholar) Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers (Liturgical Press 2011).
It is now the season of Easter (which lasts for 50 days, remember and celebrate!) but I picked up the book again yesterday. It has a meditation for each day and this was yesterday's. Each meditation is composed of a short saying by a Desert Father or Mother and a paragraph-long commentary by Keller.
Abba John knew the path to transformation must be single-minded but is not easy. The "work" is not an end in itself and we will have difficulty letting go of control of life and our false self. A decision to commit our lives to God does not automatically mean freedom from temptations or anxieties. We will be distracted from God's voice. The desert elders valued stillness because it helped them do their "work in peace." Their peace was not the absence of inner conflict. It was resting in an openness to God's grace. One example is "keeping vigil," a period, usually at night, where various postures of openness, combined with chanting psalms or expressions of a desire for God's presence, open the heart for God's presence. Fasts from food and water helped keep their focus on God rather than physical satisfaction. The desert nights were cold and their clothes were simple. The self-imposed hardships brought a variety of "sufferings" that would refine the soul's quest. (Meditation for April 26, Keller, p. 78.)
To which I add:
For us and for many around us, the desert is the daily reality: because of poverty, oppression, sorrow, alienating work, the demands of family and other relationships.
The question then becomes not so much choosing those sufferings and fasts in the night (and the day) but how to live in a holy manner with the desert fasts and hardships that are imposed on us. The same discipline applies.
Amid the sufferings that we did not seek, can we keep our focus on God? Can we open our hearts? Can we somehow seek and find stillness and rest in God's grace? Can we decolonize our souls? Can we live in our bodies with hope in the Presence? Can we too, like the desert mothers and fathers, keep vigil?
Cross-posted in slightly different form on Facebook on April 26.
William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), Granite Rocks Base of Laramie Peak, 1870.