Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Feast of St John of Egypt

The saints of Egypt,  desert mothers and fathers, inspired the Celtic saints through their austere and God focused lives. From the third century, individuals were drawn to the Scetes and Nitrean deserts living as hermits either in isolation or as small master and pupil groups. Their life of work, prayer and  hospitality, whilst offering their own life to God,  became an inspiration to Celtic spirituality and monasticism.

John worked as a carpenter until he was 25. The call to God brought him to the desert where he put himself under the guidance of a wise hermit. To try his spirit John was asked to obey the most unreasonable of trials -  herding trees, moving rocks from one side of a valley to another - all this he did with patience and humility. 

When his master died, John withdrew to Mount Lycos where he lived in solitude with a desire to think only of his soul travelling nearer to God. He constantly faced the onslaught of devils and prayed continually. When he looked at his own human desires, he distrusted himself and kept away from people especially women. St Augustine tells of John appearing to a woman in a healing vision rather than see her face to face.

However, his holy joy and cheerfulness brought pilgrims to him for advice and blessing. He would speak with people through a window; healing the sick and giving blessings and prophecies to those who visited him. 

In the last three days of his life he felt himself totally devoted to God in prayer. When he died, in 394 at the age of 90, his body was on its knees and his soul was with the blessed.

Some time ago I was in conversation with someone who considered the desert fathers and mothers to be masochists - the idea of being a living sacrifice was an horrific idea. 

The definition of sacrifice is to 'set aside'  - to offer what is most precious to God. This can only be done if the person is willing; if the 'setting aside' is worthwhile. To belong only to God must surely be 'worthwhile' - but does belonging only to any 'one' require the exclusion of all others?

The odd thing, is that through this 'setting aside' - by belonging only to the One who made us - we experience this holy joy that loves all things.

But not everyone can make this level of sacrifice - or maybe we can- but in our own way. 

Perhaps it is easier to find a place for oneself in the desert; with all its physical trials but without the temptations of the world. I will admit to sometimes finding the idea of solitude and the 'apartness' so very appealing.

How difficult it is to focus only on God, only on our soul travelling towards God when we live in the busyness and distractions of the Everyday.  

This then becomes our challenge - to sacrifice the 'who we are' within the walls of the mundane - in the ordinariness of life - and to create within ourselves some 'desert' space to follow the yearning that leads us into the experience of God's loving presence and so find ourselves, at the end of the day, praying on our knees and with blessed souls. 

blessed be


1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Word. Creating a desert within oneself sounds just like the right idea. It will stay with me today.