As I write, it’s just before Christmas (and you may be reading this just before Christmas 2015 too, but if so, may I advise you to leave this until the beginning of the new year.)
Now that we have celebrated Christmas, perhaps we are suffering from a surfeit of mince pies, Christmas cake, turkey, sprouts and such things, and perhaps it’s time to go on a reducing diet (it certainly will be for me). I always like to have a special Spiritual diet in January, which doesn’t mean stopping my worship, my thinking and praying, but rather, asking myself the question “What is really necessary here?” The answer, in a sense, is Not that much. If you have the Lord’s prayer in your head and your heart; a bible and others with whom to pray and worship, that’s all you need, truly.
There’s a Russian tradition, the poustinia. It means desert or wilderness, and it describes the act of withdrawing into the desert or wilderness to spend time, in a small building of just one room, usually made of wood. The building is simply furnished, with perhaps just an icon, a cross, a bible a chair, a desk and a bed, and nothing more. Here, the pilgrim spends a day, a week, a month, a year, in simple, silent solitude. The door is always open. Open, because it’s not about shutting others out, but rather, making a conscious effort to live the simplicity of the desert. Moreover, in the desert we do not leave others behind. The very fact of praying the OUR Father, reminds us that Christianity is not an individualistic affair. We belong to one another even when we are alone.
Whilst much of Russia is still a great wilderness, the same is not true of our own country. It’s the privileged man or woman who might find a kindly landowner upon whose land they may build a poustinia. But perhaps there is a corner of a room, a garden shed or a bench, or even the church building; a place to withdraw and to find time to pray and to be with creation and creator. But never forgetting that the door is open. This is not about shutting out the world.
“A brother came to see a certain hermit and, as he was leaving, he said,
"Forgive me abba for preventing you from keeping your rule." The hermit replied, "My rule is to welcome you with hospitality and to send you away in peace””
Sayings from the Desert Fathers.
Vicar’s thoughts for January 2016