One of the elders said: A monk ought not to inquire how this one acts, or how that one lives. Questions like this take away from prayer, and draw us on to backbiting and chatter. There is nothing better than to keep silent…
One of the elders said: Pray attentively and you will soon straighten out your thoughts.
from Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, New Directions Publishing Corp., 1960
How true this is – increasingly, this Lent, I find I’m being drawn to silence, to stillness, to withdrawing from the busyness of so much of church life. I am fortunate, in having only recently moved to this town, to be relatively free of the kind of commitments I too easily make, and so I’m able to do this without causing too much inconvenience to others. But it is hard, sometimes, because one is inevitably misunderstood, even in the kindest of ways, and it is hard to avoid hurting good people by one’s seeming rejection of things that are, in themselves, perfectly good and useful.
‘Time after time, the old men brought [Abba Theodore of Pherme] back to Scetis saying, “Do not abandon your role as a deacon.” Abba Theodore said to them, “Let me pray to God so that he may tell me for sure whether I ought to function publicly as a deacon in the liturgy.” This is how he prayed to God: “If it is your will that I should stand in this place, make me sure of it.” A pillar of fire appeared to him, stretching from earth of heaven, and a voice said, “If you can become like this pillar of fire, go and be a deacon.” So he decided against it. He went to church, and the brothers bowed to him and said, “If you don’t want to be a deacon, at least administer the chalice.” But he refused and said, “If you do not leave me alone, I shall leave here for good.” So they left him in peace.’
The instant temptation is to say that figures like this were avoiding responsibility, or setting impossibly high standards to justify their refusal of office… The issue is not about whether or not someone should assume their ‘proper’ responsibilities in the church (or society for that matter); the primary responsibility in the desert is… responsibility for your own and each other’s growth and truthfulness before God.
from Rowan Williams, Silence and Honey Cakes, Medio Media / Lion Books, 2003