Monastic Tips for Self-isolation
Wherever you go, there you are
The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.
Once the Desert Mother, Amma Theodora, told a story about how we ought to be careful when tempted to quickly leave our place of struggle. She said,
There was a monk who because of the great number of his temptations, said, 'I will go away from here.' As he was putting on his sandals, he saw another man who was also putting on his sandals and this man said to him, 'Is it on account of me that you are going away? Because I will go before you, wherever you are going.'
Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, p. 65 Templegate Publishers 1988
Whether the other man was the monk himself or a demon, you can decide. Nevertheless, we carry our struggles with us, wherever we go. Once I saw a bumper sticker that said, "wherever you go, there you are!" We can't hide from ourselves. Getting to know ourselves is one of the gifts of solitude. But without prayer, it can bring us to a sad state! We see our inclinations. We try to change. We fail again. This will either lead us to a life of wandering, running away from ourselves. or ultimately, facing the missing piece.
It is like the Cave of Dagobah for Luke Skywalker in "The Empire Strikes Back." When asking Yoda what he will find in there, his master-teacher wisely replies, "only what you take with you." St. John Chrysostom wrote to monks on the Jesus Prayer, and said,
"The remembrance of the name of Jesus rouses the enemy to battle. For a soul that forces itself to pray the Prayer of Jesus can find anything by this prayer, both good and evil. First it can see evil in the recesses of its own heart, and afterwards good. This prayer can stir the snake to action, and this prayer can lay it low." (PG 60, p. 753)
He went on to to remind them that it takes time. It is a process. King David prayed over one thousand years ago, "Help me, O Lord, for I am weak" (Psalm 6:3). Or, as Jesus said, "Without Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
The cave of the heart, the "treasure chest" as St. Isaac of Syria called it, is waiting to be purified. What a gift, these days of isolation! Let us struggle with the help of God and the Name of Jesus so as to take the next steps on our inner journey. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt, 5:8).