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The Way of the Heart

Henri Nouwen in his book The Way of the Heart say, ”Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul….

….Just look for a moment at our daily routine in general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing.   We simply go with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that have been handed on to us…..

….Why is this so?  The answer is quite simple…

…Our identity and our sense of self is at stake. The false self is the self that is fabricated by social compulsions.  Who am I?  I am the one who is liked, praised, admired……Whether I am a businessman, a pianist, a minister (or a charity worker) what matters is how I am perceived by the world (or at least my colleagues and friends). If being busy is a good thing then I must be busy, if having money is a sign of freedom then I must claim my money (or buy those new things), if knowing many people improves my importance I will have to make the necessary contacts.  The compulsion manifests itself in the fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money (or possessions), more friends.”

The desert fathers and mothers decided to escape the rat race of the 4th and 5th centuries and spend time in solitude.  “Good for them” I hear you say, “I can’t do that, I have a family to look after, a mortgage to pay.  I don’t have time for stillness and solitude!”

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What I have come to realise is that if I don’t have stillness and solitude, if I don’t take time out to stop and wonder and to admire our amazing God and the beauty of His creation then I am living a half-life robbed of the joy and experience that God has in store for me.

God has not just called me to “do” he has called me to “be”: to be His child.  He has chosen me and called to live my life following the path that He has set for me.  He has also called me to ‘be’ the person that He has designed me to be. If I am too busy in the rat race how do I know I am on the right path, how do I have time to reflect not just on what I do but on who I am.  Am I the person that God wants me to be?  Am I filled with the fruits of the spirit?  If not then it’s time in solitude that is needed to spend time with God, giving Him the space to challenge who I am and shape me into who He wants me to be.  It’s silence and solitude, spending time just being with God where I can learn who I truly am as His child and can be equipped to go back into the world to serve Him. It’s in silence and solitude that my soul can be renewed by His presence, the beauty of His world and be surrounded by His love, giving me the strength and wisdom to face the rat race.

I’m now beginning to realise that making time for silence and solitude each day is not an optional extra, it’s essential if I am to experience life in all its fullness and the true blessings that God wants to bestow on me.  Without it I am missing out on the most fundamental part of life – being at one with God, feeling his love, experiencing his peace and ensuring that He is at the heart of who and am and He is the one who inspires what I do.

I need to get off the treadmill, out of the rat race, and spend some time in the desert, not a dry and barren place, but a quiet place where I can learn ‘the way of the heart’.

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If you need help with the practicalities of stopping being busy and having time wisdom, you might find Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness’ a useful read.

 

 

 

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Go to your cell

I’ve recently been studying about the Desert Christians, women and men from the third century who escaped popular culture to go into the desert to dedicate their life to God.  This was a time when Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire.  You might think that this was a good thing.  However, mixing Church and State meant in reality that with ‘serving’ the church came a life of wealth and prosperity, it was often socially and materially beneficial to associate yourself with the Church and people ‘decided’ to become Christians often to further their own ends.  Such a situation meant that the Church became more secular than spiritual, it was a friendship club rather than a place of prayer . It was focused on serving ambition rather than humbly serving others and sharing the good news.  Therefore, those keen to live in humility and simplicity in a close relationship with God decided to move into the desert and live either in single cells near to others or in community.  They spent much time in silence, prayer and simple work but communities also provided hospitality and spiritual direction to Christians wanting to walk in a closer relationship with God.

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Their time in prayer and listening to God gave them immense wisdom and sayings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, although written 1700 years ago, are still relevant to us today.

Lets take the example of a saying from Mary C. Earle’s book The Desert Mothers.  She quotes Amma Syncletica:

“If you find yourself in a monastery, do not go to another place, for that will harm you a great deal. Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was sitting on  prevents them from hatching, so the monk or nun grows cold and their faith dies when they go from one place to another.”

As Mary explains, this is not just a message for monks and nuns in the third century, it ‘is addressing a universal temptation – to miss our lives by living completely on the surface’.

Our culture encourages competition and ambition.  We are highly mobile, with it often being common to flit from one job to another, one relationship to another, and to move from place to place.  There is an inner kind of rootlessness. Even when we are at home we are rarely still, if we get bored we move on to something else.  We don’t take time out to be still and go deep, we live our lives on the surface.

Amma Syncletica taught that faith was like hatching eggs, it needs us to be still and patient and to wait out the boredom.  There is temptation for us to go and do other things, but at what consequence?  Our chicks will never hatch.

We need to give time to our spiritual life.  We need to go to our cell each day (any quiet place where we will not be disturbed) and be still, encounter the divine and pray. It may be prayers of word, or silence, or a combination of both, but in doing so we will root our lives in prayer and faith. If we get bored, we must persevere because we will miss the deeper spiritual life if we are always on the move.

The Desert Mothers and Fathers told followers of Jesus to let their cell be their teacher.  Mary C. Earle explains:

Staying the in cell, or ‘sitting on the eggs’, means noticing our appetite for over stimulation. The cell teaches us to slow down, to be less of a slave to our impulses, to notice what is right in front of us. The wisdom that the desert mothers offers us is that by staying with ourselves, with our inner ups and downs, with our hurts and our fears, we will bring forth the new life that God is creating within us. The cell teaches us to trust in the Presence even when it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. The cell helps us to see that skipping from one activity to another, from one interest to another, from one focus to another results in never putting down roots, never getting into deeper meaning and purpose, never going beyond the surface reality.”

Where is your cell?  Do you have a space, a particular chair or area in your home that you can go into each day to be still and root yourself in the Presence of the Divine?  A place where you can ‘be’ rather than ‘do’? Why not give the wisdom of the desert mothers a try and spend some time each day rooting yourself in God? Doing so will enable you to live life in depth and fullness – not just on the surface.

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