I ran across a story in Noteworthy — A Journal Blog.
It was regarding Meditation.
I tried to add my thoughts to it but couldn’t figure it out so here they are.
John of the Cross wrote a poem that describes the journey of our soul to that of rest in the Father. It is called Dark Night of the Soul.
St. John and St. Teresa were good friends.
“Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God with the appetite and the tongue, for the only language he hears is the silent language of love.”
“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”
“Love is the measure by which we shall be judged.”
“God has to work in the soul in secret and darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”
Why did the first Christian hermits go into the desert? All of the various individual reasons can be summed up this way. They were all on a quest for salvation.
“What was salvation?” “Certainly, it wasn’t something they sought in exterior conformity to the customs and dictates of any social group.”
These men and women were keenly conscious of the strictly individual character of “salvation”.
“Society — which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life “in this world” — was regarded by them as a shipwreck from which every single man had to go swimming for his life.”
If we were to describe their position today, we would probably say they were escaping the “herd” mentality that is now taking place.
They were not rebels against society. “They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state. They did not intend to place themselves above society. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men but had no desire to rule over others themselves. They were eminently social. They sought a society where all men were truly equal, where the only authority under God waw the charismatic authority of wisdom, experience, and love.
What the Fathers sought most of all was their own true self, in Christ. They sought a God whom they alone could find, not one who was “given” by somebody else.
In addition to the hermits during the 4th Century, Christian cenobites grew into communities of hundreds or even thousand living the “common life” in enormous monasteries like the one founded by St. Pachomius at Taberna.
As I mentioned earlier St. Anthony later became known as the Father of All Monks. He was born to wealthy parents. When he was about 20 they died, he sold off all his worldly possessions, gave their money to the poor and set off to live in the desert.
Current retreats take many forms.
The caves that were home to the 4th Century hermits.
Hermits live all over the world in many different faiths.
St. Teresa of Avila. A true giant among early Christians.
“One of the first sayings in the Verba Sensorium (Number 3) is one where the authority of St. Anthony is recognized as he states the basic principle of desert life: that God is the authority and that apart from His manifest will there are few or no principles: “Therefore, whatever you see your soul desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe.”
Of course, the Desert Fathers ‘knew the rest of the story’: “He could not dare risk attachment to his own ego, or the dangerous ecstasy of self-will.”
“The Desert Fathers were pioneers. They had models like John the Baptist, Elias. Eliseus and the Apostles. They neither courted the approval of their contemporaries nor sought to provoke their disapproval. Opinions of others simply ceased to be matters of importance.”
Father Merton now directs the wisdom of the Fathers to us. He notes that the Fathers “distilled for themselves a pearl of very practical and unassuming wisdom that is at once primitive and timeless. It enables us to reopen the sources that have become polluted or blocked up all together by the accumulated mental and spiritual refuse of our technological barbarism. Our time is in desperate need of this kind of simplicity. It needs to recapture something of the experience reflected in these lines. Father Merton emphasizes the word experience. He continues “What good will it do us to know merely that such things were once said? The important thing is that they were once lived.”
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”
Lofty speakers, these men were not. They addressed simple questions with simple answers. “Those that came to the desert seeking “salvation,” asked the elders for a ‘word’ that would help them find it — a word of salvation.”
As we explore the practices of Lectio Divina and contemplative prayer we will do well to remember that the words we read and use are taught to us by humble and mostly silent men and women.
Politicians with lofty phrases and fancy tap-dancing around a subject they are not.
“But what is said serves just as well for a twentieth-century thinker.”
“The basic realities of the interior life are these: faith, humility, charity, meekness, discretion, self-denial.”
“But not the least of the “words of salvation” is their common sense.”
I must apologize. I am not writing at the pace I anticipated nor making the headway I expected.
Maybe this is enough ‘backstory’ for now. I really want to get to the ‘meat’ of what I want to present to you.
Thanks for joining me.