“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:12).
In the meditation by Rob Des Cotes a couple of weeks ago (May 28), we were reminded of the importance of persevering in prayer. Desert father Abba Moses is quoted as saying to a young monk seeking guidance: “Go to your cell, sit down, and your cell will teach you everything.” This quote is part of a larger body of sayings from the desert fathers and mothers that teach the wisdom of remaining or staying. As Rob noted, this wisdom applies to life beyond the practice of prayer. It encourages perseverance and patience which enable us to embrace the life God has given us.
Of course staying isn’t always what wisdom prescribes. The desert monasticism of the fourth and fifth centuries owed its existence to an act of collective fleeing. With Christianity being recognized by political powers and increasingly embraced by society, many men and women of faith fled to the desert to practice their vision of discipleship apart from what they perceived as the compromise and decline of the church. And yes, there’s a body of sayings from the desert monks on the wisdom of fleeing!
If we’re to stay with prayer and the life God has given us, what are we to flee from? In the text above Paul counsels Timothy to flee from the love of money which degrades and brings pain (1 Timothy 6:10-11). We could add another corrupting love from which to flee: “Do not love the world or anything in the world, if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). And we’re to flee from conformity to the world, being part of systems that cultivate and enslave us to disordered desires and godless agendas (Romans 12:2). For these early Christians, getting off the worldly grid and fleeing to the desert was an expression of their devotion to God.
As we too desire to live lives devoted to God, there are aspects of fleeing as taught by the desert saints that speak deeply to our interior life and our relationships with one another. They understood that to flee physically doesn’t automatically reform one’s heart. Sin and pride will follow us. They also believed that living in community (in addition to solitude) was essential for spiritual growth and the cultivation of mature love. The pursuit of the virtues of which Paul speaks is an ongoing work. With practice and by God’s grace we acquire an internal reflex to recognize and recoil from impulses that dissipate these virtues and dull our love for God and our neighbor.
This inner work is very much the same for us today as it was for these early saints. Their writings spoke of fleeing from obsessional thoughts (Evagrius and Cassian). They were especially concerned with strands of thought that assert one’s own status, dignity or importance. Such thoughts are forgetful of our common humble standing before God and may cause us to imagine ourselves to be superior to others. They also counseled fleeing from obsessional speech, especially speech that judges or prescribes courses of action for others. Speech was to issue from a practiced silence and attention to God, as well as a deep regard and gentleness toward those to whom we speak.
Now as then, the quieting of chaotic thoughts and the cultivation of graced speech happen through the practice of prayer and solitude. We receive grace and help in these areas of need by staying in the blessed place of prayer. And through prayer we take our place with our ancient predecessors in fleeing from the chains of conformity to our world.
1. ‘Flee’ is not a word we commonly use today. It implies urgency. Reflect on how fleeing might apply to aspects or hazards of the journey of faith. What examples of this have you experienced?
2. How do our patterns of thinking reflect our conformity or nonconformity to the world?
3. How does the practice of silence and solitude affect our speech? What have you noticed lately as being challenges or graces in your interaction with loved ones or others in your circle?
God we thank you that you are our refuge, and that we can flee to you in all of life’s complexities and trials. We ask for your grace to recognize and flee from things that keep us from abiding in your presence and living lovingly in community. Amen.