Sunday, March 25, 2007

Things matter: What's in YOUR cell?

Continuing through the topics covered in Meg Funk's fine book, Thoughts Matter, I have been thinking about "things." It's one of eight areas of thought life discussed by the Desert Fathers, specifically listed in Cassian's Conferences.

I was surprised to find in Meg Funk's book an emphasis on the importance of letting go of "things" in the vowed monastic life. I had assumed, wrongly, that because vowed religious give up ownership of things as part of their vowed existence, that ownership simply wasn't important anymore.

Foolish me.

Giving up something outwardly is only the first step, according to Cassian. The real battle, and the real value, is found in giving up the inner attachment. Here's is Meg Funk's take:

"We cannot put an end to our desire for things by having a large or small sum of money. We can only do that by virtue of renunciation and [Cassian] urges us to root out the desire to acquire as well as the wish to retain. No number of things can satisfy the grasping, greedy impulse of avarice."

How true. Visually this came to me as a question: what's in your cell?

I have my fellow blogger Antony H. to thank for a recent reminder of the cell's importance. The picture above, Cell of the 6th hermit St. Cyriac at Sousakim, south-west of Jerusalem fairly close to the shore of the Dead Sea, comes courtesy of Antony also.

The cell is defined as the place where the monastic meets God, where he or she wrestles with day to day living, hidden away from the world's observation.

I looked into my cell. What did I find there?

A variety of "things" and concern about "things." Looking at these concerns and cares was very healthy. It granted me a new freedom to get outside myself, outside my daily practice, outside my work and my "mission and ministry" to see aspects of my life which usually go tooling on their merry way unexamined.

A tres healthy process to go through for the spirit.

But a greater surprise to me was that in my cell there were also people.... and when it comes to discernment, those people are also "things." I'm not talking about "using" people or the evil of "objectifying" others as foils for our own desires, fears etc. That's sin.

Instead, I observe that people by their very nature, like physical things, have a spiritual force field, a gravitational attraction, if you will. This "pull" of people in my life makes them as much in need of a good discerning examination as the other physical "things" of which our lives are made.

After it was over (this round at least) I called this process a Spring Cleaning. It fits because right now here in Minnesota we are beginning to emerge from our wintry cocoons to take stock of the house, the yard, the garden and get ready for the riotous few months of outdoor pleasure which God grants the true Minnesotan.

In societal terms, this time is a perfect companion to the Lenten journey, which is its spiritual counterpart.

More from Meg:

"When we consent to a serious relationship with God, grace follows. Cassian notes that none of us has to do all the practices of the spiritual life. But many who answer the inner light begin, through inclination after inclination, to make choices from a discerning heart. Over time, this practice becomes a lifestyle."

What's in YOUR cell?


Antony said...

One of your best posts (IMHO). I would be lying if I said it that reading it wasn't just a tad bit of an "ouch" for me. Thank you for calling us once again (as you have often lately in your posts) to self-examination. There are things in my cell that shouldn't bet there. I have some spring cleaning to do indeed.

Phil B. said...

Thanks, A.