It is 6:52 a.m. in Tucson, Arizona, and I am here to learn about those intrepid men and women known as the desert fathers and mothers (or Abbas and Ammas) of early Christianity (4th century), who left the cities to find their “true selves” in the silence and solitude of the deserts of the Near East.
Later this morning I will set out and find a space in this desert place where I will be alone for just an hour without anything to distract me but my own thoughts. The rules are: no cellphone, no journal, no watch to tell when we should come back. “Watch the sky,” our teacher answered when that question came up. Just walk out, find a place and sit down. Simple? Not so much, since we are 21st century Americans.
Here’s what Thomas Merton said on the subject in his book, The Wisdom of the Desert:
“We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find out true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God. This is not the place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious vocation might involve. That is still unknown. Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men [and women] of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.” (p.24)
This will obviously not be achieved any time soon but making a start seems important today. Prayers, please!