Over dinner last night with a couple of friends who happen to have theology degrees, I learned a little bit about the Desert Fathers. Ascetics who eschewed the mainstreaming of Christianity by Constantine, these forebears of the monastic movement removed themselves to the desert to rediscover what their faith truly meant. I think they were probably a little cray-cray if we’re being honest. But I looked them up this morning because I was intrigued. Their torment was largely self-inflicted, but they discovered how to live in torment as a result. And I’m taking a couple of notes.
“Sit in thy cell, and thy cell will teach thee all.” As I have nowhere to be but my cell in the moment, I am willing myself to be taught by it. As I am feeling more spent, vulnerable and powerless than I can remember feeling, I am making a conscious effort to ask for help. As the people who I consider to be my support have demonstrated themselves to be clumsy and inept at helping me in this particular area of my life, I am learning to hold part of myself back as I reach for help. As this process has alienated me from some of my closest friends, I am making an effort to be more honest. As I know this may further hurt these relationships, I am standing by myself and not retreating to the safe territory of trying to make other people happy. My cell has taught me this. That sometimes I must need. And some things I must hold back.
One father’s mantra was, “Today, today, today.” He repeated it to himself over and over so as not to focus on terrors to come, but to only deal with what he was facing today. I think I’m going to tattoo that backwards on my face.