Extreme Pilgrim (3)

Christian encounters Christianity – in one of its most ancient forms amongst the Copts of Egypt. In this third episode (televised yesterday) Peter spends three weeks in a cave in the desert, following the example of the Desert Fathers. They were the first ever monks: living in isolated communities they gained a reputation of closeness to God and great practical wisdom.

Whereas his guides in the previous two episodes had seemed to be encouraging him towards (personal) enlightenment, I felt that here he was introduced to a greater cosmic purpose: that his solitude and prayer might not only affect him but the wider world. Effectiveness in prayer in this sense is about persevering by fighting the demons that become apparent (at the least in the mind).

Having struggled with the silence and solitude, by the middle of his third week he was starting to enjoy it, and – with a face that had started to show joy – he looked forward to “another beautiful day; another difficult day.” Life is difficult, if we engage with it.

At the end of his stay he reflected that the battle is about making good choices. (In my mind this connects with the importance of Discernment.) He said that not to join this battle (of concern about truth and what is right) is to be numb. He admitted that when he arrived he had been numb, but that he was now waking up. This felt painful, he said, like being born.

This is a challenge to us all to develop our “inner life,” and to seek appropriate help to do so, and to deal with what we find there.

Before he went up the mountain he spent time in the monastery, commenting that the Orthodox form of worship had many differences as well as similarities to that which he was familiar with. In an aside he noted that the practice of prostration when praying was an ancient Christian practice before the Muslims took it on.

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