Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Books and Being Alone

I read two things in the Desert Fathers book yesterday that made me think…(that’s what those sayings are supposed to do, right?!) They were sayings of Theodore of Pherme.

The first one tells us that Abba Theodore had three good books; he went to Abba Macarius and told him that both he and the brothers profited from the books. He wondered whether he should keep the books for his own and the brothers’ use, or whether he should instead sell them and give the money to the poor. Macarius answered that even though it was good for Theodore and the monks to use the books, it was better to possess nothing. So Theodore sold the books and gave the money to the poor.

I love my books. It would be very difficult for me to bring myself to voluntarily sell them and give the money to the poor! There was something similar in The Way of a Pilgrim, I think. He lost his Philokalia, or it was stolen…and he was heartbroken. But he learned to live without it, and then it was restored to him.

The environment for prayer that I have created for myself is important to me. I know it’s important to be able to retreat to the hermitage of my heart, too, but my spiritual director has pointed out that, since we are physical beings with five senses, the environment for prayer is important – or at least it can enhance and encourage our spiritual efforts and experience. My environment is conducive to prayer, and since I am  in that environment so much, it also reminds what to pray and when to pray it. I cultivate that, because I figure one of these days I might be senile, and if I have a routine in a particular environment, perhaps I will be still be able to pray from that little island in the midst of my dementia.

The other saying of Theodore was about a brother who lived in solitude, but was “troubled”. Abba Theodore told him to “be more humble in your aspirations and to go and put yourself under obedience and live with others.” The brother did so, but then reported back that he still could find no peace. Abba Theodore said, “If you are not at peace either alone or with others, why have you become a monk? Is it not to suffer trials?” And he said that he’d “worn the habit for 70 years, and on no day have I found peace.”

When I have complained about the people who distract me and give me no peace, and say that I wish I could live in silence and solitude, my spiritual director has pointed out that I will still have to live with myself. More and more I discover how difficult that really can be.
I guess “peace” comes in Heaven. We’re not supposed to find it here. It’s supposed to be a struggle. That was also brought home to me a while back when I was reading a chapter in my Desert Mothers book. Can’t recall which story it was, but there was the comment that a holy woman and her brother “struggled in the ascetic life” for many years. And I thought. THEY struggled?! Duh. It’s always a struggle. It’s supposed to be. No pain, no gain, and all that.

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