Abbot Anthony said: Just as fish die if they remain on dry land so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling with men of the world, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells, lest remaining outside we forget to watch over ourselves interiorly.
from Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, New Directions Publishing Corp., 1960
It seems to me that we who do not live in monastic communities, or as formal solitaries, and yet are called to the contemplative life, need to consider very carefully – and Lent is as good a time as any for this exercise – just what constitutes for us our cell, and what constitutes “dwelling with men of the world.” I’m sure that for most of us, “dwelling with men of the world” is something far more subtle than loose living or luxury. It may even be a church community that is for us, however good and nourishing it may be for others, antithetical to the contemplative life.
I expect we shall sometimes be misunderstood – though I am equally certain that we shall meet with love and understanding from often unexpected quarters – but we need to persist, gently, in obedience to God’s call.
It seems that for me at least, this Lent is to be just such a time of discernment. I should be grateful for your prayers as I struggle to make practical sense of God’s increasingly insistent call to draw closer to Christ in prayer and silence.