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Monastic Tips for Self-isolation

Good wandering

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” (Isaiah 26:20 ESV)

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.

During our time of collective isolation, we find ourselves more deeply in the school of prayer and meditation. A common struggle in prayer is concentration. Staying focused. Letting our mind wander. One of the greatest of the Desert Fathers, St. Isaac of Syria, has some very helpful suggestions about this. Let’s reflect together on his words:

When you are in prayer, do no ask to be entirely free of mental wandering, which is impossible, but seek to wander following something that is good. For even pure prayer consists in a wandering which follows something – but this wandering is excellent, seeing that the search for something good is excellent. Wandering is bad when someone is distracted by empty thoughts or by pondering on something bad, and so he thinks evil thoughts when he is praying to God.

Wandering is good when the mind wanders on God during the entire extent of his prayer, on God’s glory and majesty, stemming from a recollection of the Scriptures, from an understanding of Divine utterances and holy words of the Spirit. For we do not consider as alien to purity of prayer and detrimental to recollection of thoughts in prayer any profitable recollection that may spring up from the Writings of the Spirit, resulting in insights and spiritual understanding of the divine world during the time of prayer. For someone to examine and think in a recollected manner about the object of his supplication and the request of his prayer is an excellent kind of prayer, provided it is consonant with the intention of the Lord’s commandment. This kind of recollection of the mind is very good.

It is helpful to remember the guidance of the holy Apostle Paul regarding prayer and meditation on such things. He actually gives this as a help for anxiety and worry!

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:6-8 NKJV)

So, in a way, we all are on an extended retreat. Praying. Reading. Meditating. May mercy flow from the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ to all the world. May His peace settle in the hearts of you and me.

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