The deserts of the world have an allure, an almost mystical pull for certain humans. It was in the Sinai desert that Moses, the Exiled Prince, found his God and destiny in a burning bush. Muhammad found his destiny in the Cave of Hira near Mecca when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him with a special message.
These men sought solitude to hear that voice which comes like the night desert wind. For it is in solitude the mind is free to listen without worldly distractions.
In 313 AD the Edict of Milan was issued by Constantine I and Licinius. These two men ruled the Roman Empire, West and East respectively.
What the Edict did was to introduce religious freedom to the Empire. Christianity ceased being a persecuted and hunted sect to become a bona fide religion with state protection. Constantine would adopt it as the state religion.
This syncretism of religion and politics did not meet the needs of many Christians who had struggled for two hundred years. Many sought refuge from the Roman cities in the deserts, especially the Nitrian Desert of North East Egypt.
These men sought the place where the Holy Spirit could speak to their souls. Political intrigue and ritualistic trappings did not suit their spiritual journey.
There were two main types of these city abandoners—the hermits who sought solitude on their path to salvation and the cenobites who formed religious orders and lived in monasteries.
On the wilderness frontiers these men sought to find purity of heart and obey the voice of their God. Popes and Emperors could enhance each other’s ambitions as the state compelled obedience in their domains, but these men sought a higher calling then just to be slaves to Institutionalism. The church as organized in Rome was contrary to the humble and noble teachings of the Nazarene Teacher who had no place to lay his head or a dwelling to call his own.
Like Paul, the tentmaker of the New Testament, these men worked to provide for their own essentials—food, shelter, simple clothes and shoes. They were willing to share what little they had with strangers who were journeying on their road of life.
In the excellent book THE WISDOM OF THE DESERT, Thomas Merton takes a brief look at these Desert Fathers. With pages of quotations from these men of the desert, the wisdom gems of a lost generation are shared with those who are always seeking verbum salutis (a word of salvation) for their thirsting spirit.
For it is a certainty that the spirit of today’s seekers is parched from the formalism and hierarchy of their religious communities. Cool refreshing water from the Holy Spirit is wisdom and joy to the exhausted trekker.
In his conclusion to his preface Thomas Merton wrote
“We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build on earth the Kingdom of God. This is not the place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious vocation might involve. This is still unknown. Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.”
If you are a seeker, may you find your own Scetes (places of solitude and wisdom) in the wilderness of this planet traversing the cosmos in 2013. May the winds of truth embrace you like the night stars which beam with ancient light.
For it is in starlight that the mind is clear from the brightness of day. May their songs, the ancient star songs, caress your spirit and guide you into cosmic truth.
G. D. Williams © 2013
In My Ending Is My Meaning