” There is an old story from the Desert Fathers about an old monk showing a younger man around the monastery. They passed by one cell where a monk lived alone, and there were many demons brooding and flying in and out the windows. And in the next cell where several monks lived the demons were lying around and sleeping. The young man remarked to the Abba, ”The monk in that first cell must be very evil.” ” No,” the Abba replied, ”he is very pure. In that second house the monks are very lazy and lecherous and so the demons don’t need to bother with them.” In some way we should be worried if we are not doing the inner battle, because as I read the stories of our monastic ancestors, including Saint Romuald, I hear, I hear all the time about them struggling with demons, as we struggle with our own compulsions and addictions, petty and great, with our disproportionate recurring reactions, our selfishness. The inner struggle might be a harder struggle than fighting in the battlefield, because in the struggle against the self, we have to constantly battle enemies that are hosted inside our own mind and heart, from which there is no escape. As a matter of fact the solitude and silence of the cell are meant to take away any possibility of escape from this battle (unless you have wireless internet, that is).” – Fr. Cyprian OSB Cam from his October 31, 2014 Homily on ”the inner and the outer struggle”
There is a great deal of relief felt inwardly as I read these words again after having re discovered them after a time filed away under the ‘’ must go back to ‘’ pile of papers that has adorned my desk these last months. These words also so beautifully echo a very recent conversation that I had with my spiritual director recently, around the nature of faith and trust amidst times in the great abyss of the wild and barren ”inner desert”, and how we hold on to this life and trust and faith while experiencing these great trials we endure. It certainly also challenge’s the trap that one can at times fall in to; those ruminations and thoughts we may have that somehow if I was really connected to my deepest spiritual self, then I would not suffer; I would not feel pain; struggle with my own addictions and compulsions; nor feel the urge to escape from this suffering and pain; This being in essence, a life of all permeating peace and light and love and bliss! Yes, certainly one aspect and symptom of living the inner life during such moments of grace! and certainly in the midst of great suffering peace is there to be found. Yet, often in all reality – especially when one struggles with symptoms of mental illness (and here I only speak from my own personal experience) -more often than not the inner passage is often lived through our hard and arduous pilgrimage within a deep and treacherous desert landscape, with its ever present parched desert seasons. In fact I feel the spiritual practice is the journey through all these seasons we face. Both in shades of ebony and nuances of white. All become soul food for our inner practice.
Today, a good friend was reading through a spiritual text, and a question was posed as to the reason for our life here on Earth. The text replied ‘’ the whole reason for our existence is to become a pilgrim of love’’… This moved me profoundly, as I contemplated the horror that is alive within this world and that is echoed within my own self also so often. yet within it all we are challenged and we are called to love. We are challenged when we are called to love, because more often than not it is a hard task as we are faced with the darkness that is residing within us. This love can feel far and lost in the midst of our own anguish.
Certainly from the perspective of our own humanity, my own humanity this can seem a seemingly impossible task and a gaping chasm that one must cross to find the truth of these words and the wholeness of the true self; the spiritual pilgrim questing always inward toward God. Yet we also hold the divine spark for we are but shimmers of the divine and eternally held and beheld in love. God calls to us over and over into this love. This suffering which dwells in love.
So many stories abound of the mystics, as they often walked within their own seasons of pain and joy – both pain of the physical and the suffering of the mental. Suffering and pain somehow seem almost a prerequisite in just so many ways to those living the deeply mystical life. I, as with the many mystics who have gone before- and through years of my own anguish – have come to believe that difficulties are not obstacles on the path, for they are indeed,’’ the path’’, and in every season of suffering our task is to cultivate mercy toward ourselves and to stay there as long as possible, even in the midst of seemingly unbearable times of great suffering. This is the challenge I hold before my own times of pain. And this is the journey of love God calls me into. Can I welcome this as my path? Can I hold this experience without wanting to fix it, or avoid it, and can I remain with it and allow it to speak to my heart? Often I feel my ego shrinks from this awesome responsibility, and again and again I fall into times of un compassion repeating patterns that no longer have their place within the great heart of love; but yet somehow with gentle nudging I am returned once again onto the path of love – upon his heart of love – and s/he places me once again along the rocky road to grow and become a true pilgrim of love. Until I face and become intimate with my own fear, it will always limit my ability to love, so God calls me to pay attention, for everything is my teacher.
Ezra Bayda in this vein writes poignantly: ‘’suffering is often the most effective vehicle for awakening the heart’’. Amma Syncletica one of the early desert Mothers also writes: ‘’ Great endeavors and hard struggles await those who are converted, but afterwards inexpressible joy. If you want to light a fire you are troubled at first by the smoke, and your eyes pour water. But in the end you achieve your aim. Now it is written: ‘our God is a consuming fire .’ So we must light the divine fire within us with tears and struggle’’.