Monday, March 10, 2008

Stinters and Desert Saints

In the 4th and 5th centuries there was a movement of men and women from all walks of life who went into the deserts of Egypt to live alone, pray and seek to become like Jesus. They were looking for a renewed way of discipleship to Christ, leaving behind a culture in which, following Constantine’s becoming Emperor, Christianity was becoming popular. Now that Christians were no longer persecuted for their faith, everyone wanted to be one. Following Jesus became easy. It no longer cost you your life.

In that context, there were men and women who were drawn to a more radical way of life. They found that the distractions and temptations of a comfortable life made it more difficult to follow Jesus. They wanted to take Jesus at his word, to “go and sell everything they had and give it to the poor – and come, follow Me.”

In the desert, they lived alone or near small communities of other hermits. They practiced “the discipline” - simplicity, fasting, working to provide for their needs and the needs of the poor, and prayer. There were few copies of Scripture, so they memorized what they had, and meditated on it long and hard.

In the desert, too, they fought. They fought against the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil – against greed, and lust, and pride, through the help of Jesus and discipline. They learned about themselves and their real motivations – and they learned about the humility and self-sacrificing love of Jesus. In the process, they were changed. People were drawn to them. Their charity towards others and their love of God began to shine through them – and more and more people wanted what they had, and were drawn to the desert to be near them.

I think that Stinters are modern desert saints. No, they are not perfect – neither were the desert saints! But they want something – they want to follow hard after Jesus. A comfortable, easy, distant acquaintance with Him is not enough for them. They want to do what he does, to go where he goes, to learn what He has to teach them, even though it costs them.

And so they give up the things that make them comfortable – distractions, friends, safety. And they go into the “desert” of Merida, or Costa Rica or East Asia or Lithuania or Moscow or Croatia, and they struggle – to learn about themselves, to love others. And they have nothing to depend on but God.

If you are a Stinter, take heart. You have, I am sure, struggles from the outside – and from the inside. God is doing more in you and through you than you can imagine. The desert saints (there were an estimated 30,000 men and women who went to the desert) became the impetus for a new generation of believers – including Athenasius, who fought for the truth of the deity of Christ, Jerome, who first translated the scripture into Latin, and Augustine, who became the foremost theologian of the church. And here we are today, partly because of their struggle.

Here is a quote from “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”
“Poemen said about John the Short that he asked the Lord to take away his passions (i.e. strong emotional reactions and desires). So his heart was at rest, and he went to a hermit and said, “I find that I am at peace, with no war between flesh and spirit.’ The hermit said to him ‘Go and ask the Lord to stir up a new war in you. Fighting is good for the soul.’ When the conflict revived in him, he no longer prayed for it to be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, grant me strength to endure this fight.’

Men and women of God – Fight!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for adding me. I enjoyed my virutal seat on the pink couch.


B said...

This is so insightful. I wish I had read something like this back when I headed out on my STINT (a few years back!) I expected the external challenges but I didn't really think about the struggles I would face from the inside. Yet God was present in the midst of all of it, and he taught me so much. The battle was worth it.

Sarah said...

Thank you! I just stumbled into this in the five minutes I had to be online and it was just the "animo" or encouragement that I needed to hear.

Taylor said...

Finally! I get to enjoy your wisdom on a blog! Miss you... I pray you're doing well. We should catch up soon.

Kelly Cain said...

thank you carolyn! i needed to read this today!

Kneeshaw's said...

I grabbed a cup of tea this morning (earl grey, b/c it reminds me of you) and read your blog. It was so encouraging and reminded me that the struggle, though hard is worth it! I look forward to sitting on your virtual pink couch often. =)