Ever since I took a class on Christian History in seminary two summers ago, I have been fascinated with the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These were the Christians who, after Rome made Christianity a “state religion,” went into the desert to seek spiritual purity directly from God. They felt that “official Christianity” was becoming diluted from the pure relationship Jesus taught.
The Desert Fathers and Mothers did not go into the desert to escape fellowship, nor did they leave the church. Rather, they sought God, asking Him to purify their hearts for the sake of fellowship and God’s mission in the world. They had a vibrant desert community of faith, and they also stayed actively engaged with the surrounding Christian churches. They sought to bring the pure ways and accountability of Christian discipleship and the presence of the Holy Spirit back into a church that was vulnerable to Roman political and secular influences.
I have long related to these desert aesthetes. We all have a spiritual yearning for finding a quiet place with God. The Desert Fathers and Mothers practiced this quiet time with God through meditation, sometimes referred to as “centering prayer.” For the past two years I have been reading the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and practicing (or trying to) centering prayer.
I find particularly relevant for today the Desert Fathers’ and Mothers’ practice of giving full focus to whatever you are doing at the moment – whether it’s praying or working or resting – and not letting your mind wander. The problem with mind-wandering is those negative, destructive, or even just distracting thoughts that enter in.
That’s one thing I struggle with, and before I realize it, I’ve allowed muck to creep into my spiritual reservoir. Then one little things goes wrong, and I go into a tailspin. I’d like to keep my reservoir pure. When something goes wrong, I’d like to approach it from a place of peace: the peace that only Christ brings.
I am asking God to help me with this – including to see if there are roots that need to be dealt with. But I think part of my vulnerability isn’t so much deep roots or doors open to the enemy. I think this is more just my daily practice of letting my mind wander. I see it even when I’m praying quietly with God and stray thoughts creep in. It’s like setting out fly paper for not only my own thoughts, but also the “thoughts” that the enemy will toss my way.
I am asking God to help me “practice His presence” in all that I do, and stay focused on whatever task He has given me in the moment, and not let my thoughts wander. Instead, I ask that God help me live in a place of His presence and peace, bringing my thoughts captive and obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). What better way to draw closer to God than to focus on Him in all we live, say, and do.