Abba Isaiah questioned Abba Macarius saying, "Give me a word." The old man said to him, "Flee from men. "Abba Isaiah said to him, "What does it mean to flee from men?" The old man said, "It means to sit in your cell and weep for your sins. "
Reading: Luke 18: 24-30
"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The desert dwellers deliberately courting lonely grief when they left behind their families, friends, and positions in the world to head into the wilderness. Solitude precipitated a radical stripping of everything they’d learn to rely on in their former lives. For some of them, at least, this meant learning to endure a grinding, seemingly purposeless isolation, the likes of which most of us cannot imagine.
James Cowan points out that the painful severance of relationships undergone by desert solitaries like St. Anthony the Great also opened the door to a new way of being:
This lonely man living in the desert imposed a new valuation on human endeavour: that people had a right to an inner life over and above their responsibilities as social beings. Such a premise went far beyond any that Socrates had proposed, even at his death. A new force had entered the world. By his retreat into the desert, Anthony paved the way for others to take their first step on the road to selflessness.
The price for this kind of liberation, however, is incredibly steep. Solitude brings us face to face with a person who fills us with dismay: our naked self. Instead of the self-sufficient, goal-directed, accomplished human being we’ve learned to secretly admire, we are suddenly revealed as a weak, dependent, fearful creature. If we have prided ourselves on the maturity of our faith, solitude twitches back the curtain on self-deception.
Being hidden in solitary suffering is a pearl we need to find and cherish.
Today, I will try to spend an hour in solitude: no phone, no e-mail, no TV, and no interaction with another human being, live or electronic.
God, show me what I’d prefer not to see: my undefended self; then strengthen and sustain me.