“Someone asked [St. Anthony]: ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’”
(From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward)
Some wise sayings are easier than others. Or at least they seem that way. You know I love the ancient faithful, those who followed Christ at great cost: the mystics, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the monastic heroes, whose lives have taught us how to be people of prayer and humility.
And so, I’m stuck on the saying above, words that have pricked me and that offer no ease to my modern soul. St. Anothony says: You want to follow God? 1) Don’t let God out of your line of vision, 2) always live in light of the scripture, and 3) Stop moving everywhere, Micha! Seriously, pick a place and live there.
I can’t stop coming back to the idea of stability around here. The Benedictines commit to stability for life. And then I sit around reading books about them while moving myself and my family all over the country every two years. Something about my “love” for the ancients doesn’t add up. I’m reading about the Desert Fathers (St. Anthony in particular) in Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart right now. St. Anthony did leave the place in which he lived. But he left it once and spent the rest of his life in the desert, making a calling out of solitude.
Part of me wants to laugh when I read about solitude or stability or even reflective prayer. How am I supposed to seek solitude when I have a baby my body feeds every three hours, who can’t sleep without my touch? How am I supposed to pray in paragraphs when all the time my 3-year-old allows is one sentence brain spurts?
And how am I supposed to “please God” (according to St. Anthony, of course) when I have left the places I’ve lived over and over and over?
I began this blog because I feared I was losing my spiritual earnestness due to the tangible needs of motherhood. I had some inner nudge that there is a deep answer to motherhood found in monastic life—that underneath the constant emotional and physical demands of raising babies, there is room for the sort of faith of the monks. I have this kernel of belief that if I keep holding my mother-calling up to God my time is going to be redeemed, my depth is going to be expanded, my soul is going to ease out of the scrunched wad it often feels like it’s in.
St. Anthony says: “Don’t easily leave it,” these places we’ve lived. He also says, “always have God before your eyes.” Neither is easy.