As a young Christian man, it is no secret, especially in America and Europe, that it is extremely difficult to live a life of faithfulness in regards to the Christian walk. The availability of virtually anything that can satisfy our wants, desires, and needs makes indulging ourselves ridiculously easy. Not only is it easy, it is socially promoted and accepted via commercial marketing and general cultural attitudes. Even those who are relatively poor economically have access to material goods and distractions (all one needs is an internet connection), and access to material wealth in some quarters is actually considered a “right,” as if we are born to possess things, a list that is continuously growing.
The average child first sees pornography online at 11 (!), and 70 percent of men 18-24 view pornography regularly. The most popular day to view pornography online is…Sunday. 35 percent of all internet downloads have some sort of pornographic content.
More than 1/3 of adults in the U.S. are obese (Center for Disease Control).
In an average American home, the T.V. is on for 6 hours and 47 minutes per day. The average child watches 28 hours of television a week, and sees an average of 20,000 commercials a year. (Nielsen Research).
And this is just the short list of the what is happening in the culture. Living an authentic Christian life in such an environment is extraordinarily difficult, and the increasing isolation of the individual (consider the rise of loneliness and boredom, in spite of all our technology and consumerism) makes the idea of community seemingly impossible.
So what does this have to do with the desert? Once Christianity started to become popular in the cities of the Roman Empire, there were “tons of distractions and temptations,” and many Christians were “Sunday Christians” and lived like the pagans of the time during the week. As a result, some of the men and women who wished to live a more authentic Christian life and to reach the world, left for the desert (especially in Egypt and Syria) and lived a life of self-denial, study, prayer, and service. Many of the writings of these desert fathers as they are called are in our possession today, and are a fantastic source of inspiration and instruction. All the more so when self-denial is not a popular virtue.
For example, consider the words of Isaiah the Solitary, a 4th-5th century figure from the areas around Egypt and Palestine. The text is entitled “On Guarding the Intellect” and comes from the Philokalia, a huge collection of writings in the traditions of the eastern church, of which the early ones had influence on the west as well.
“When a man has an exact knowledge about the nature of thoughts, he recognizes those which are about to enter and defile him, troubling the intellect with distractions and making it lazy. Those who recognize these evil thoughts for what they are remain undisturbed and continue in prayer to God”
“I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, so long as you are in the body. Just as a farmer cannot feel confident about the crop growing in his fields, because he does not know what will happen to it before it is stored away in his granary, so a man should not leave his heart unguarded so long as he still has breath in his nostrils. Up to his last breath he cannot know what passion will attack him; so long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for His help and mercy.”
May we take Isaiah’s advice and guard our hearts and minds in this culture of
distraction and materialism!
Note: I highly recommend my “kindred spirit’s” work on the desert fathers and the like found at the Pocket Scroll. Read and learn!