Wisdom from Hermits

The ancient Christian hermits and monastics offer us some wisdom for what happens during the seasons we choose or are forced to slow down.

Simplicity

The first step is physical. It is identifying what your body absolutely needs to survive, and realizing what was unimportant all along. Sometimes simplicity is a painful stripping away. Sometimes you may be surprised that in simplicity you are releasing burdens you didn’t know you carried. In simplicity those who have the privilege of more are released and free to share with those who don’t have access to what they need. Thomas à Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ

“You can in no manner be satisfied with temporal goods, for you were not created to find your rest in them.”[1]

Slowing Down

As your space and time declutters, so does your body, mind, and spirit. This doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t work that needs to get done. Rather work itself becomes a spiritual practice. The desert monks also worked for their survival and sustainability. Work as a spiritual practice is free from the striving for acknowledgement and achievement that we usually associate with work. Work as a spiritual practice slows down to one task at a time. The intention is to be present to each task wholeheartedly, no matter how mundane the task may be. John Cassian observed of the desert monks…

“…some had a one-thing-at-a-time rhythm, moving with grace and poise through tedious, repetitive tasks. Other monks were fighting the “work” and resisting each motion. It seems as though the first group of monks worked from the center of their heart and the second worked from wild swings of random thoughts coming from here and there taking the monk away from the sacredness of the moment.”[2]

Solitude and Stillness

Just because you may be alone or have extra time on your hands doesn’t necessarily mean you are engaging in the spiritual practices of solitude and stillness. More likely, you are doing all you can to resist and avoid the stillness. Solitude, stillness, and silence are inward practices more than outward conditions. The desert fathers and mothers taught that the first thing that happens in the stillness is you come face to face with yourself. All the mess you experience in the outside world doesn’t magically disappear, rather you carry it with you into the solitude. You must first confront your false selves before you can rest in the place of solitude.

John Cassian wrote ” When we try to escape the struggle for long-suffering by retreating into solitude, those unhealed passions we take there with us are merely hidden, not erased;”[3]

Silence

Finally Eastern Orthodox theologian John Chryssavgis wrote,

“Silence, then, is the great stabilizer…Silence is about being, and not simply doing; it renders the heart acutely attentive and uniquely receptive.”[4]

Ultimately, silence prepares us for who we are to be in community. In the silence, you look at God as God looks at you. When you allow someone to look into you, it can be uncomfortable. But the longer you settle into that intimate and vulnerable space of silence, you find both God and a truer version of yourself.

May who you are in seasons of sabbath prepare you for who you are to be in this world.


[1] Thomas à Kempis. The Imitation of Christ. New York: Image Books, 1955.

[2] Mary Margaret Funk. Thoughts Matter: The Practice of Spiritual Life. New York: Continuum, 1998.

[3] David G. R. Keller. Oasis of Wisdom: The Worlds of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005.

[4] John Chryssavgis. “The Spiritual Way.” In The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, edited by Mary B. Cunningham, 150-164. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.