The Desert Fathers and Mothers were hermits who lived mainly in the Egyptian desert beginning around the third century AD. The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271. By the time he died in 356, thousands of monks and nuns had been drawn to living in the desert following his example – his biographer, Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that "the desert had become a city. The Desert Fathers had a major influence on the development of Christianity.
The desert dwellers used the image of a muddy pond or dirty mirror to describe a mind cluttered by distraction. They believed that what we cling to says a lot about the state of our souls. Their beliefs were rooted in Jesus’ injunctions to stay focused on the one true thing – the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field.
Clear out the junk
Abbot Pastor said:
If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after awhile, they will spoil and turn bad.
Reading: Matthew 7:24-29
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
We’ve always lived in a large house until we moved into our present one. When we made the move, we reduced our belongings by around half just to get them all through the door. Our life has been shrink-wrapped. Yet if the truth is known we still had too much in our new house. And so slowly over the last four years we have let more things from the past go.
The great third- and fourth-century flight made by thousands of Christians into the Egyptian and Syrian deserts stemmed in part from an impulse to strip, to cull, and to give away or eliminate anything that might tie one to the past. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were on a quest for purity of heart, and they understood that physical items are never just themselves but rather symbols and reminders of the life we must, however reluctantly, be willing to relinquish if we are ever to change.
The narrow way Jesus describes in the gospels involves giving up our former way of life. Mary Margaret Funk calls this conversatio morum, or on-going conversion. It breaks our hold to the familiar and comfortable past, as well as the tears we once shed, the idols we once worshipped, the myths we once believed, and the lies we once told ourselves. It turns our faces, with trepidation, toward an unknown future
I’m going to try to look again at the junk in my life and deal with it.
Liberate me from my past, Lord, so that I may build on solid ground.