Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"It's good fun for a hermit."

Perhaps not so fun if you were an Original Hermit, from the 4th century.
"Hermit" comes from a Greek word meaning "of the desert" or "desert dweller."
In the 4th century, the first hermit appeared. His name was Paul of Thebes. He had a followed named Anthony the Great.
The goal of hermits was to isolate themselves and encounter God through prayer.
Out of this, sprung Monasticism, which eventually grew into monkhood.
When Monasticism first showed up in the 4th century, however, it was seen as the "new martyrdom." In the first few centuries AD, Christianity was illegal and those found practicing it were killed, or pitted against lions in the arena.

Martyrs were seen as the heroes of Christianity. It was an honor to die for the faith. Then Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal and martyrdom became extinct.
In Monasticism, the person renounces worldliness and focuses on spiritualness. Celibacy, poverty, and obedience were major aspects. They believe that it's the heart and the spirit (devoted to God) that matters. Because of this, Monastics often went without eating, bathing, or sitting down. Often they wouldn't change their clothes, and if bugs crawled over them (one man supposedly had worms living in his teeth), they wouldn't mind, because the body would eventually decay in the ground anyway. It's the soul that matters.
One man went out into the desert to be alone with God, but found a crowd of lookie-loos waiting for him, so they could observe this strange new aspect of Christianity. The man didn't want to go back to civilization, and he didn't want to stay with the crowd in the desert, so he did the only thing he could do. He went up. Literally. He build a pillar, allegedly 72 feet high, and lived up there for 30+ years. He would stand on one leg, and then the other (because there wasn't enough room to sit or lie down) and he would preach to the crowd below him.

All this is rather odd to the 21st century Christian. The first thing that presents itself to me is the Bible verse about our bodies being temples of God (and we should take care of them). The Monastics had Bible verses to back up their way of living (some verses of Paul's about giving up the world, and something about the body as well, but I can't remember).
But, if you think about it, their way of living did have certain things going for it.
For one, they didn't "love the world or anything in the world" (1 John 2:15), and they spent lots and lots and lots of time in prayer - in communication with God.
Our pastor is going through Luke in his sermons and, even though we're only 6 chapters in, do you know how many times that Jesus has gone off by himself already (to be in the presence of God, to spend time talking with the heavenly Father). Four times. The first time was when he was a little child and stayed behind at the temple to listen to the men teaching there. When Mary and Joseph found him they were upset but he said "Didn't you know I had to be in my father's house?" Had being the imperative word.
Today, in too many Christians lives (my own included), God is pushed to the side. He is, ultimately, Lord of our lives, but it's more of an aloof partnership. Do you think God wants that? No, of course not! He created us to be in relationship with Him, and even though sin did a nasty job of separating us from God, he still yearns for us to know Him. And not just know as in knowledge. In Hebrew, the word for know is yada which doesn't just mean "knowledge." It means to perceive, to distinguish, to know by experience.
A knowledge brought about by experiencing God.
And how do we go about knowing God in such a deep fashion?
Well, the way you would get to know anyone. Spend time with them.
Read the Bible, pray everyday (and you'll grow, grow, grow).
Jesus did that. He took time away from the crowds, from the disciples, from everything periodically to go and spend time just talking with God.
In Luke 6 he goes to a mountainside and spends the entire night praying to God.
How many times have you purposefully set out to pray the whole night through? I know I've never done that.

Though the Monastics way of life was rather extreme, they took this aspect of WWJD? to another level. They wanted to know God, and spent there days, their months, their years doing just that: praying and seeking God. They left everything behind.

The world behind me, the cross before me, no turning back. No turning back.

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