This morning I have been reading Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings, Annotated by Christine Valters Paintner. It is a delightful book that quotes from the writings of these wise desert dwellers who chose to renounce the world in order to deliberately and individually follow God’s call. Their writings were first recorded in the fourth century and contain much spiritual advice that is still applicable today.
One characteristic of the desert fathers and mothers was their desire for a “word”. They were not asking for a command or a solution but for a communication that could be received as a stimulus to growth into a fuller life. The word would be pondered on for days or even for years. I love this story that Christine shares from Benedicta Ward Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. xxii.
A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, Speak a word, Father” and Basil replied, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and the monk went away at once. Twenty hears later he cam back and said, Father, I have struggled to keep your word now speak another word to me” and he said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.
It is so easy for us to read the word of God and not really absorb it into our being. Or else we want to dissect it and work out what the author or the translator really wanted to say. To dwell in the word the way that the desert dwellers did we need to release our thinking minds and enter into a space where we can hold the word in our hearts, turning it over and over, pondering it but not trying to pull it apart.
This morning as I prayed the word that came to me is God is love”. It is a phrase that I have pondered many times in the past. It has brought me healing as I imagined the love of God seeping into my broken soul. It has brought me encouragement as I pondered the love of God flowing out through me to touch the hearts and lives of the refugees and marginalized people I have worked with. And it has drawn me into greater intimacy with God as I have imagined the wonder of God’s love abiding in the depth of my heart.
The knowledge I have in my head of a loving God will never transform me unless I allow it to seep deep into my being so that it becomes the air I breath, the food I eat and the ater I drink. God can only respond in a loving way. If we allow that thought to guide us always it will transform the world. It will have us always on tiptoe looking for the loving things that God is doing. It will have us rising up in righteous anger against the unloving and hateful things that are done in the name of God. And it will have us always seeking to be loving towards God’s entire human family.
What is the word that God has lodged in your heart and wants you to ponder on? I pray that you will take time today to enter into that word in a way that allows it to speak to you.
A few years ago, while walking a labyrinth, the word I received was “trust the process”. Not very biblical, or even, necessarily spiritual (although it was intensely spiritual for me). But, I can’t tell you how many times I have returned to that word, and how much it has both comforted and guided me. It remains one of the most powerful words I have ever received.
Thanks for this post, Christine.
I think that is a very spiritual word. We so often get our eyes set on the destination and miss out on the value of the journey – the process that gets us there.