Been thinkin’ a lot lately about St. Anthony of Egypt, whose feast day was January 17th. Love his vision of the Christian life, rooted completely in Jesus’ way: give up EVERYTHING for God. No, really, everything, that you own and possess, get rid of all that shit, if you really wanna find God. So Anthony did, sold off everything in his rather comfortable life, and took to the Egyptian desert. Everything that we all just take for granted in our lives- food, house, clothes, wealth, all possessions- given up, for God.
It gets better, though, because Anthony begins to really understand why Jesus calls us away from our possessions. See, all those things that we cling to, they keep us from dealing with ourselves. That’s what Anthony got to learn out there in the wilderness, that all those pleasant distractions help us forget about the Self, that is our worst enemy. Anthony’s famous for wrestling with those demons out there in the sand, but the worst part of his struggle was the temptation to give in to sin and evil, centered ultimately in Self.
Anthony woulda made a great Buddhist, as he teaches us to cling to nothing, not even, and especially, the Self. Anthony would also made a great Mulsim, because he teaches that our greatest struggle–in Arabic, jihad–is with the sin that we allow into and control over our Self. But in the end, Anthony became one of the great Christians of all time. Jesus calls us to give up everything, not just so we can find our way to God. That’s actually the easy part. Jesus calls us into the desert life so we can also confront our Self, and the sin that we keep all nice and tucked up within it. When we understand the discipline it takes to make the Self a servant of God, rather than a servant of wordly possessions, or the sin that creeps so easily within, we understand the life Jesus leads us all to live on our way to God.
Now, I obviously don’t live in the desert, and certainly have just as many possessions as anyone else! So I usually have to improvise to make my way to a “desert.” I have found it now and then. I push all my possessions away, and take a deep breath into my Self. I wrestle wtih all the demons that I find there, and confront the worst of Me. Right in the midst of this cloudy and cluttered world that Anthony fled. I still have the luxury of returning to all my distractions, but I do look forward to the day when I don’t. Yea, by God’s grace, and a lot of work, I’ll just go set up some lean-to somewhere–the middle of one of those big old cemeteries has always appealed to me- and take up this life of a monk, a “monad”–alone, like Anthony…like Jesus. Like Siddartha, and Muhammad, and the great saints of God’s Truth. Alone with the gift of the Self God gives me, that, with discipline, leads me right to her…
St. Anthony of Egypt, please pray for all of us, especially as the Lenten season approaches….that God may help us find our way to our deserts, and into Her heart, and a more complete Self, as certainly as She helped you….