We become what we surround ourselves with
Have you ever wondered what you might have become, what kind of person you might have been and what values or perspectives on life you might have held had you been born in another place or time? So much of what seeps into our very souls is not the result of conscious choosing but is rather that which is just there, often unnoticed, yet lived and breathed like the air which fills our lungs and brings life to every cell in our bodies. It profoundly shapes us, often quietly and slowly, day by day, year by year. When we do pause and become mindful of this we begin to see the enormous significance of where we are, who we are with, and what we listen to.
In Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries of the current era, the Christian desert tradition began and flourished. This is the tradition of those men and women known as the desert fathers and mothers. They were people who withdrew themselves from the society of their day. At that time, following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. This brought to an end the period of the persecution of Christians and the extreme witness to commitment to Christ that those early martyrs showed. As a result, that radical Gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ, which had been so courageously lived out in the period of persecution, seemed to lose its edge and Christianity now seemed to be ‘watered down’ to a comfortable level of religiosity. It had lost its converting power.
These abbas and ammas of the Egyptian desert thus left the wealth, compromise and lukewarm spirituality they felt now existed in the cities and chose the solitude, silence and prayer of the desert as the new way of being witnesses to the crucified and risen Lord. They became in a sense the new martyrs, not witnessing by the spilling of their own blood but by the humble life of manual work, fasting and prayer. Their life was often a painful struggle to find their true identity. They fled a world which said, ‘You are what you have’. They were conscious that not only society but the church too had become corrupted by this motto. In the desert they were able to slowly, over time, shake themselves free of all the layers of the deceptive self and the illusion of truth which society offered, and reclaim their true self.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator