Thursday, March 31, 2011

The cell of one’s heart…

A brother in Scetis went to ask for a word from Abba Moses and the old man said to him, ‘Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.’

From the Catholic Information Network subsite, The Paradise of the Desert Fathers.

I keep wondering what for us are our cells, if, like so many people of prayer in this century, we are called to a more contemplative life, and yet are not members of a formal religious community, nor vowed to a formal solitary life. I wrote about this earlier, and yet I am no more clear on the matter. I find I need increasingly to look for ways to ‘be on retreat in the midst of a crowd’ as someone memorably remarked in a Facebook comment on a friend’s post.

The formal practice of the Jesus Prayer, sitting for a period quietly repeating the Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…’ often using a Latin rosary or a prayer rope, tends to lead, after a time, to the habit or practice of praying the Prayer – often it feels more like the Prayer praying itself – when one is engaged in other things: walking, perhaps, or some repetitive task. I wonder if allowing this to become more conscious may not be a door into the cell of one’s heart – a place of solitude not so dependent on external conditions as most kinds of contemplative prayer.


  1. I read once the story of someone alone in his hermitage. Suddenly, in the corner of his room, he saw a very dangerous snake. A cobra maybe. So he spent his night staring at the cobra, watching his every movement, so much he did not want to die under the fangs of the snake.

    The morale of the story was: Watch your self as the hermit watched the snake... Your self is as dangerous as a snake...

    I am not sure that I can watch my self in the midst of a crowd. Alone at night when my reason's defenses are down, oftentimes I find myself nose to nose with my self, with my snake. So often it wins the night...

    Thank you for asking us.

  2. Thanks, Claire. I know, being 'on retreat in the midst of a crowd' is no substitute for 'formal' prayer - and yet it might just be better than the alternative! I all too easily get sucked into the life and preoccupations of the crowd, and my snake has a high old time of it... I am thinking of something, perhaps, not unlike the Buddhist concept of 'mindfulness'.

  3. Mike, it is just that I cannot imagine being on retreat in the midst of a crowd. I have felt very lonely in the midst of a crowd. A long time ago, in India, I loved disappearing in a crowd.
    In my previous comment, I was just sharing my inadequacy, I guess.
    I just need to think about your post and not just do a pirouette :-)

  4. Mike, I immediately thought of you when I read this:

    Amma Syncletica said, "There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in town, and they are wasting their time.  It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts."  (Syncletica 19)


    I have to learn this :-)