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Is the grass greener…?

November 1, 2010

RoadI’ve been re-reading Silence and Honey Cakes by Rowan Williams and each time I read this book I find that I get more and more out of it. There are so many rich thoughts and ideas, even within one chapter which in order to fully soak up you need to stop reading and just spend time thinking on. The book is a reflection on those known as the Desert Fathers who in the C4th headed to the desert to escape from a church which they felt was going badly wrong and how these thoughts relate to the C21st world.

In his final chapter on ‘Staying’, Rowan reflects on the call that God makes on each of us not to run away from who we are, something which Benedict of Nursia called ‘stability’. Its interesting when you think of the amount of time we spend dreaming about a different version of our lives, or a different version of an episode in our lives and ignoring what is right in front of us. We spend so much time thinking about imaginary versions of the world were we are in charge, or more widely respected, or where things go the way we think they ought to. We ignore the world as it is, the place and time God has put us in and dream of other alternative lives we wish we could live. Of course the real world forces itself back in, when the baby cries, or the redundancy comes or more forcibly perhaps when someone close dies and it is this discrepancy between the world we dream of, and the world that is real, that often leaves us feeling depressed. In order to stave off the real world we spend the time distracting ourselves, what the Desert Fathers called ‘fleeing’ with anything we can. We surround ourselves with people, with work, with mobile phones, and mp3 players, anything really which stops us being alone with our thoughts, which will stop the real world becoming real again. Of course when these fail to work we often actually physically flee as we change our jobs, partners, or homes (to state just a few) in order that we can keep the fantasy alive, or at the very least the real world at bay. This is why those five brave souls, who stepped out of their busy worlds in the new BBC documentary, The Big Silence, find the silence so scary and difficult to face. They must face themselves as they actually are and not as they wish they might be.

But God calls us back to reality; He wants us to know that He is God not us and that He, rather than us, being God is actually a very good thing. He wants us to see that we can never be a fulfilled person, and never truly be serving Him if we live in the realm of the fantasy, the realm where the church down the road might be better than the one we are in, where the neighbour God calls us to love isn’t the one who is actually in front of us asking for our help. Where actually if we were else where, anywhere else in fact, we would be a better person, a better Christian a more content and holy person. No, God wants us back in reality, where we serve those who are actually around us, where we get stuck in, perhaps not in the way we think we would prefer to serve, or even in the way we think we would best serve but rather by actually doing what needs doing, serving those who need serving. This is what Rowan means, and what the Desert Fathers meant by ‘staying’. The decision to face up to the world as we actually find it, to deal with those who are actually in it, those God brings us face to face with on a day-to-day basis and wants us to care for, and to be taken care by whether we like it or not. After all, as Rowan emphasises, this is what God does in the incarnation; entering the world, dealing with the world and refusing to be tempted to accept a world other than the one that God had created (Matt 4:1ff).

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Nelson permalink
    February 18, 2011 12:21 pm

    Hi i find it interesting reading your blog such as this one. God bless!

  2. March 24, 2011 10:12 am

    This post has just made me add another book to my reading list! I love hearing about the Desert Fathers for I’ve found much spiritual renewal and direction in contemplative prayer. I agree, most of us even without knowing it are continually mired in distractions and illusions that take us off our focus from God. Many times it is much more comfortable diving down the path of escapism in the form of television or other media distractions, our own wayward fantasies that can be pleasant to entertain within our mind’s never-ending cinema…rather than seizing the present moment and seeing with clarity what God has to teach us right now…here….in the precious moments of “now”.

    A great post 🙂

    • March 24, 2011 12:17 pm

      Thanks Jessica, I hoped you’d get to read this post as I thought you’d like it. Well worth reading ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ and also ‘Tokens of Trust’! As I said in the post, I keep coming back to ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ and learn more each time. Looking forward to your post on this book, once you get round to reading it!

  3. June 21, 2011 7:09 am

    It is so true..humanity is frantically running away from life..but in search of life. It is a dichotomy. Only when you take time to be still,in the moment, in the silence can you hear your own inner voice..calling you to wholeness.There is a change of consciousness in the wind. People are looking for more….all we need to do is go inward…find our truth…and live that potential of grace…

  4. June 21, 2011 10:35 pm

    Once a spiritual father explained the dynamism of spirituality in the world. Desert fathers were born because that was what the Spirit inspired them to do… but Jesus was made flesh and incarnated to be one like us. The tension always lies deep within the realm of fuga mundi and incarnation. Even the saints experienced that. The love we have for God is measured by the love we have for others. God manifests Himself to us in the Transfiguration but also calls us to pitch our tents elsewhere, wherever we are needed. We are called to go down the mountain and serve…

    This is a beautiful post Mike. Something I always have to go back into… in the silence of prayer…then out into the world 🙂 Thanks 🙂

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