This afternoon it was really interesting to watch a you-tube video of Father Peter Owens’s journey into Egypt to quite literally follow in the footsteps of St Anthony, that first desert hermit and ascetic. The story followed him, as he journeyed over the desert landscape with a number of Bedouins, to the worlds oldest monastery that St Anthony himself established. To further then, spend 3 weeks living as a hermit overseen by the hermit Father Lazarus.
I was struck by the deep inner journey he explored in his own battle with the questions and experiences that plagued him the further he went into his own hermit experience. This being; feeling an initial apprehension, fear and anxiety, to a profound and deep existential wrestle with his own inner experiences that became heightened through the silence and solitude that was enveloping him high in the desert caves.
Toward the end of his time spent there he eventually came to touch a very real sense of quietude that surrounded him reflecting the peace he had made with his own inner agitation over the full 21 days living in the cave. As he later reflected on this time and his own inner struggle, I was particularly struck by his words – to not engage with this struggle ” means that we fall asleep. We become numb “, and that even though to go through it is exquisitely painful, it is like we ” are being born.”
I have been pondering somewhat on his words, and in this I particularly think about life with mental illness and in particular the extreme dis-quiet that symptoms of this illness can present as a ” raging dis-quiet ” in ones own interior landscape and reality.
This depth within the spirituality of the desert touches me profoundly and directly confronts to a certain degree my own patterns of ”running”: of ”falling asleep” to the divine currents that course within my own inner experiences, and in a sense this existential”birthing” that on one level has filled my own humanity with great fear, while at the same time a simultaneous longing; this divine birthing that tantalizingly lures my heart ever forward – ever deeper into those same eternal and loving arms that have always eternally enfolded about me no matter what shades of light and darkness I have at times not always willingly traversed through.
Like the outer, this inner desert, also is at times devoid of any perceivable contours and shapes and exquisitely raw in it’s arid colorlessness and seemingly unending echo of solitude and silence.
Yet, as Father Peter experienced for himself it is precisely within this time of silence, that a new creation comes to the fore; birthing forth from beneath layers of noise that ”silence” and ”still”, as we enter into the echo of our longing and within from within which we can then hear the nuances of our own ”true light” and come to embrace with compassion the vulnerability beneath all the layers of our own ”unquiet” mind.