In Scetis, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. The old man said, “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”… This is one of my favourite spiritual teachings which comes from the desert. It comes from a collection of sayings formulated by an eccentric band of Christians who sought a life without distractions. This movement, to the western desert in Egypt, represented the beginnings of what we know as Christian monasticism. The central place of devotion became the cell for the desert hermit. This way of spiritual formation was a hard road, tormenting, life threatening, relentless. Yet, the desert monks attracted visitors, spiritual tourists, who sought counsel and wisdom and spiritual direction. The desert became full of distractions. So the advice of one of the more celebrated desert fathers, Abba Moses, is for his spiritual mentee to retreat to his cell (presumably a cave). He is saying that everything that is needed in the spiritual quest can be found here.
I wonder if there might be wisdom here which we might translate to our present age? This month of September in which we have been focussing on the stewardship of our time for God also asks where might we spend this time? We should not automatically assume that God’s time belongs in church. Many parish priests and spiritual leaders will have tried to overcome the perception that religious formation is a Sunday-only activity; once church is over ‘normal’ life can recommence. An authentic spiritual quest will correct that false perception and will take a pilgrimage to a desert place. This place might not be the arid landscape of the Egypt desert but it could be in our homes or at our workplaces. It is, in particular, the nurturing of faith at home that I am most interested. How can we continue the joy, celebration and mystery of our Sunday gathering? What might we be able to do in order to learn from the cells in which we live?
The faith at home movement provides a host of ideas enabling the spiritual quest to flourish in a domestic context. The imagination could run wild, as I am sure it did with many of the 4th century ascetics! so, why not try some of these suggestions for the days of the week and the seasons of the year:
- Make a sacred space in your home. This could simply be an area made up of a hand made cross, an open bible, candles and an icon.
- Have a bible open at all times, read a small passage from it each day and spend time in silence listening to God in reflecting the reading.
- Ring a bell for attention instead of shouting.
- Pray before meal times.
- Have a holy water stoop at your front door.
- Hang a wind/peace chime in the garden.
- Prepare for a special family meal on Thursdays.
- Eat fish on Fridays.
- At Advent make your own wreath and calendar.
- At Christmas take home the Holy Family Posada figures for a night.
- At Epiphanytide, remember the visitation of the wise men to Jesus – have your home blessed with holy water and mark the lintel of the door with chalk (20 + C + M + B + 16).
- Have a bonfire on Ash Wednesday.
- At Easter make a chocolate cake and share it with neighbours.
- Have a fireworks party at Pentecost.
So many ideas, but by no means is this list exhaustive. Why not share some other potential ideas with me? Please reply to this post in the space below so that we can create a forum for the nurture of faith at home. Let’s heed from the wisdom of the desert and let our homes be places of spiritual growth and learning. (It will also be good to see you in church – the House of God – on Sunday)!