Tag Archives: history

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.


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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History on our doorstep

I’ve travelled the world to see historical sites, but have driven past this sign every morning on my way to work for the last five years and have never taken time to find out what is on my doorstep.

Flagfen sign

Well today was the day!

Situated just south of Peterborough Flag Fen gives you an opportunity to explore what life was like 3,000 years ago in Britain. During the 1960s and early 1970s evidence of Bronze Age farming was discovered on the site.  But is was not until a chilly day in November 1982 that archeologist France Pryor noticed an oak post in the mud in the dyke near Fengate. The post had been worked with a small axe.  Further exploration found this to be part of a timber platform the size of Wembley stadium, dating back to 1350 BC.

This causeway was made up of over 60,000 timbers and stretched for a kilometre from Whittlesey Island to Fengate (part of what is now the city of Peterborough) across the wet fenland. It is presumed that the small island part way across was where religious rituals were performed.  Flag Fen houses a small museum of artifacts and is trying to preserve some of these ancient timbers….

Causeway Flagfen 100813

You can also see examples of two round houses, giving a flavour of what life was like in the Bronze and Iron Age.

This is the one depicting a house of the Bronze Age, with the meadow on the roof 😉

Roundhouse Flagfen 100813

And the other is depicting an Iron Age roundhouse…. just like being back in rural Africa…

Roundhouse Flagfen 100813 (2)

Then there were their boats made from hollowed logs…

Boat Flagfen100813

This is a replica, but original  Must Farm Boats were discovered at nearby Must Farm and are in the process of being restored on the site.

Then as well as seeing an exposed section of the Roman road known as the Fen Causeway, you can walk along a reconstruction of a prehistoric droveway.  This is a great place for nature spotting.

Look at the 7-spoted ladybird…

7-spot ladybird (2) Flagfen 100813


Comma Flagfen 100813

Meadow Brown…

Meadow Brown open Flagfen 100813

A small tortoiseshell caterpillar…

Small Tortoiseshell Caterpiller Flagfen 100813And lots of his friends…

Small tortoiseshell Caterpillars on mass FlagFen 100813

Then along the dyke were plenty of birds singing in the reeds…. although it was difficult to spot them…

Flagfen habitat 100813

..including juvenile Goldfinches…

Juvenile Goldfinches Flagfen 100813

As well as Mute swans….

Flagfen Swans 100813

Swans dipping Flagfen 100813

Mute Swans Flagfen 100813

There is a lakeside walk where I heard lots of action but is was hard to see the birds through the reeds. I did spot lots of Harlequin ladybirds though; a very interesting find and more will follow in my next blog. Here is just one as a taster…

Harlequin Closeup Yellow 16-spot  Flagfen 100813

Back near the visitor’s centre were the Soay Sheep…

Soay Sheep Flagfen 100813

Soay Sheep 3 Flagfen 100813

…..beautiful waterlilies…

Lily Flagfen 100813

and some very friendly swallows…

Pair of Swallows Flagfen 100813

Swallow Flagfen 100813

….. then you can sit on the cafe veranda and admire the view.

Flagfen Landscape 100813

All in all, an interesting few hours exploring a site of historical and natural interest, just 8 miles from my door.  I wonder what else I am missing?

Click here for more information on Flag Fen and for a location Map

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Posted by on August 10, 2013 in Bird, butterfly, History, Insects, Landscape


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