January 17, 2014

The Inner Mountain - Witness of Antony of the Desert

In the life of Antony, after he has suffered all kinds of trials and overcome all kinds of irrational powers, he is drawn to a mountain to pray.  But people come to him seeking counsel and help.   The solitude he needs is threatened.  This is why he begins to make a plan to find a more remote and protected place that will allow him to enter into the intimacy with the Lord for which his heart longs.

It is as he is making his plans that God warns him that if he tries to acquire solitude by his own effort, he will lose what little he currently has.  What is remarkable is that at this point in his life, Antony has grown accustomed to these kind of interventions. He is familiar with the Lord and knows how to respond.  Because of this, the Lord is able to invite Antony to a deeper trust, a deeper obedience of heart.  Antony submits to the Lord's request and lets go of his own schemes.  Following the guides the Lord gives him, the Lord is able to lead him to the Inner Mountain - a place of greater stability and intimacy with the Lord.

The Inner Mountain is a real geographic place in Egypt where Saint Antony is believed to have lived.  At the same time, the inner mountain is also a spiritual place - a deeper recollection and peace only the Lord can lead us to.   There comes a point in prayer where our own cleverness is not enough. When our own resourcefulness is getting in the way rather than helping us in prayer, we must let go of our own schemes and trust in what the Lord provides.

Prayer is something the grows and develops - requiring our own effort, but also requiring trust in God even more.  The place and time for prayer that the Lord gives us is always so much better than anything we can get for ourselves when we are limited to our own resourcefulness.  This truth does not excuse us from seeking and  from cooperating with what the Lord is doing.  But it keeps our efforts to pray grounded in our trust in God rather than what we think we can accomplish.

There are some who do not understand the importance of solitude and silence in the Christian life.  They stress community and how much we need one another -- and this is true.  God prefers to work through broken humanity to reveal his glory.  He is glorified in our love for one another.  He has given us all different gifts in such a way that we are bound to one another and we share in one another's joys and  sorrows.  At the same time, we also need to withdraw into prayer and allow the Lord to strengthen us with His love.  This means we need to order our lives so that we can find the solitude and silence this kind of prayer requires.   Saint Antony's witness to this end helps us understand that this effort to establish our lives in prayer is not something we can do on our own.  God is ready to help us when we are ready to listen with our hearts.