“When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, ‘Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?’
A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, ‘Do this and you will be saved.’ At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.”
From ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’, Benedicta Ward
This story seems to present such a simplistic remedy for the scourge of Acadia…how can something so uncomplicated really offer a solution? Of course, we are educated people, living in an age where we imagine that a proposition needs to be sophisticated and complex in order to be effective. And because of this we sometimes lose much sleep over a problem when perhaps a more relaxed approach to a resolution may actually be possible.
Let’s have a look at some of the helpful elements of this story, as we try to establish a cure for our soul’s descent into either lethargy or desperate activity.
First of all, Anthony admits that he has a real problem, and that the problem is not going to be fixed by all the self-help in the world. He needs help from one who is more powerful, more able than he is, so he cries out to God for rescue.
But God seemingly does not answer with the urgent rescue, the quick fix that we might have hoped for. There are other stories of St Anthony where his prayer for help is swiftly followed by God’s intervention, but not in this one. It seems, as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove says, that “Some battles…are ours to fight”.
God simply gives to Anthony a simple example to follow. To the man who is struggling to stay put, to pray and work, he gives a picture of a monk who stays put, prays, works, prays and works again. Perhaps Anthony remembered that even the decision to seek stability band faithfulness to the place where God had put him is a process, not a point of having ‘arrived’, but an ongoing process of decision, commitment and living out what God has given.
What God does give him is a rhythm of prayer and work, a simple, dynamic process that if skilfully followed, without allowing it to become over-complicated, can rescue us from the grip of purposeless boredom.
The scriptures remind us to, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”…that suggests to me a process and a rhythm, rather than a quick fix. It may take time, it may be a struggle, but it really is a case of make the effort or just give up completely.
And if we want to be the people God has made us to be, giving up is not an option…
“Sing to the LORD, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
His anger lasts for a moment,
but his favour lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may go on all night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30: 4-5