Back in the early 80’s I read a book by Henri Nowen entitled “The Way of the Heart” in which he introduced me to the desert fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries. At that time I was just beginning to understand the need for silence and solitude in my life. He gave a quote from Thomas Merton that had a deep impact on my way of looking at life. Merton wrote in the introduction to his “The Wisdom of the Desert, “Society…was regarded [by the Desert Fathers] as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life….These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.” They believe they were moving to the edge of society, to be a voice and influence on a decaying culture and badly compromised church.
Merton goes on to say these desert fathers “were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state, and who believed that there was a way of getting along without slavish dependence on accepted, conventional values.” In leaving the world, they were helping to “save it in saving oneself” observed Merton. Leaving the ship wreck of the world did not mean just saving themselves. “They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.”
I can confidently say that there is a significant movement in our culture among sincere followers of Jesus to learn again from the desert fathers. This new movement, which is called “the New Monanistism” is being embraced as a means of deepening one’s walk with God, while still trying to effect change in the decaying culture. It could be thought of as “a Third way” when compared with conflicting voices heard on the left and right of the church. I for one have embrace this movement. As many of you know, Judy and I live up in the woods of Northeran Minnesota. I call the two of us “a monk and a nun.” What give me the most clarity for ministry and service in the kingdom at the ripe, old age of 70, is to think of myself as a monk on the edge of the culture, trying to be a voice that speaks back into the culture.
As I write this blog today, I have a sense that I might write more about this movement and how it is effective the lives of sincere followers of Jesus. But for now – for this blog- I guess the thought I want to leave with the men who read this blog, is the need to be counter -cultural. While we need to remain connected and engaged in the culture lead there is a real also the need to be disconnected in spirit and outlook. I like to think of Jesus as “the third way.” I will just give one small example in my life. I am still connected with the ELCA branch of the Lutheran church. God has placed that on my heart. I know that I am part of a sinking ship or, changing the metaphor, part of a body that is sick spiritually. But from where I am on the edge of things, I still can speak a prophetic word from within. So my word today, men, is don’t abandon the ship, but rather flee to the edges of the church and culture, so that you can be renewed and made alive in Jesus.
A watchword for us men might be the last words of the Old Testament. “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to thier children, and the hearts of the children of their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5)