Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't pull too hard or something will snap

The Desert Fathers and Mothers lived near Scete, on the banks of the Nile, in Egypt, in the 4th and 5th centuries. Around the time that Christianity was gaining prominence as an official religion in the Roman Empire, people were heading out into the desert, to live in caves, and practice solitude. There is a collection of wisdom and stories from that time called “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers” even though history is clear that women were also attracted to the developing monastic life.

One of the “Desert Fathers” who spoke about silence, a man called Abba Antony said, “The person who abides in solitude and is quiet, is delivered from fighting three battles- those of hearing, speech, and sight. Then they will have but one battle to fight- the battle of the heart.”

There are lots of sayings by Antony, and also stories about him. One day he was out in a field with some of the younger monks in training. They were telling him about their dreams, and asking for help in understanding them. The conversation was quite lively.  In the midst of all of this, a hunter came out of the nearby brush, and showed his displeasure- he seemed to feel like the monks should be acting more holy, and having less fun.  He may have thought they should be silent all the time.
Antony responded to the hunter’s displeasure by asking him to take up his bow, and place an arrow in it, and draw it. The hunter did so. Antony said, ”Draw it further:” and he drew it. He said again, “Draw it yet further:” and he drew it. The hunter said to him, “If I draw it too far, the bow will snap.”

Abba Antony answered: “So it is with God’s work. If we go to excess the brothers quickly become exhausted. It is sometimes best not to be rigid.”

The hunter was penitent when he heard this, and profited much from it. And the brothers, thus strengthened, went home.