Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Contradictions and Guidance

It is said of Abba Agathon that he spent a long time building a cell with his disciples. At last when it was finished, they came to live there. Seeing something during the first week which seemed to him harmful, he said to his disciples, "Get up, let us leave this place." But they were dismayed and replied, "If you had already decided to move, why have we taken up so much trouble building the cell? People will be scandalized at us, and will say: 'Look at them, moving again; what unstable people!'" He saw they were held back by timidity and so he said to them, "If some are scandalized, others, on the contrary, will be much edified and say, 'How blessed are they who go away for God’s sake, having no other care.' However, let him who wants to come, come; as for me, I am going." Then they prostrated themselves to the ground and besought him to allow them to go with him.

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In Scetis, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. The old man said, "Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything."

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The second of the sayings  from the Desert Fathers has been one that has guided me for some time. In my late thirties, I realized that I had often moved away from things just because they were unpleasant, jumping to something else just because it was different. I had decided that I would stay in the "cell" I was in at the time and I would move to something next. That seemed right at the time, and as you may find in the Fathers stories and saying, I was "much edified." 

The top saying seems to contradict the second. One calls for stability, the second calls for going away "for God's sake," even if you've only stayed somewhere briefly. 

This is the beauty of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They understood that not everyone had the same calling.  If some one came to them and wanted to be their disciple, they would teach them the discipline they kept, but neither did they demand that everyone live their life. 

This is freedom. 

We tend to want a lesson, a directive, and have it be true and correct for all time. Some are, I suppose. But I also recall a pastor saying, some years ago, something about how we tend to agonize, crying out in prayer, "Oh God, what should I do?" And God, with a shrug, answers, "I don't know. What do you want to do?" 

This is not license. 

A lot of times, we know what isn't good for us but we can't seem to leave it behind. Other times, we are so afraid of the good that is right in front of us that we can't sit still to accept it. 

This all takes a lot of discernment and discernment isn't simple. My desert heroes spent many years in prayer and contemplation to be able to make a decision like Abba Agathon. A novice certainly shouldn't look at his example and think that snap decisions are the leading of the Spirit. 

I'm somewhere in all of this, of course. I'm neither able to claim brand new novice status, neither can I boast of being Abba Agathon's equal. I don't feel free to speak openly of all that spurred this week's post. 

Suffice to say, I'm writing to myself, "thinking out loud," if the light clicks of this keyboard count as "out loud." What is my discipline and where is my freedom? 

The questions seem worthy of sharing publicly, however private the answers may turn out to be.

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