Desert Wisdom IV
Abba Anthony also said, 'Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will loose our interior watchfulness'.
Though none of us are solitary hermits (for which some of us may well thank God!), is there still anything we can learn from Anthony's strong warning against monks loitering outside their cells?!
I recall a time some years back when prayer and worship had become particularly arid. I had lost the 'intensity of inner peace' that Anthony talks about. And that was due, largely, to my rushing around.
I went to a spiritual director and told him about this, and he asked me a surprising question: 'What have you *really* enjoyed doing in the past couple of weeks?'
Rather guiltily, I responded that the most enjoyable thing I could remember doing was going to an Italian restaurant on my own, having a pizza and a large glass of white wine, and slowly eating it, whilst I watched the river pass by and the sun glint off it.
Just in the process of describing it again to my director brought back the intensity of the moment - its rejuvenating calm.
The spiritual director clapped his hands together with the glee of a doctor who has diagnosed his patient. 'Right,' he said. 'That's what you're to do once a week. Find something you really enjoy and treat yourself'.
I doubt any onlooker - or even Abba Anthony! - would consider my solitary lunches to be moments of prayer. But they became key moments when I slowed down, and reentered God's presence.
In a sense, those weekly meals became the 'cell' into which I retreated and where my 'intensity of inner peace' was restored.
It is a salutary lesson: rushing around in the busy world does gradually take its toll. We all need a 'cell' - a safe, quiet place to be with God. For each of us this will be a different place. Without time in God's presence we become like fish out of water.