Abba, Give Us a Word

March 18, 2020

By the 4th Century of the Common Era, monasticism already existed. Yet there were these faithful Christians, some hermits, some ascetics, who sought deeper union with God. In humility and faith they retreated into a disciplined life in the desert of Egypt. Anthony and all who followed blessed their companions and the world with wisdom in words that guide, console, prod, and direct a people into closer union with Christ and one another in a world not too different from ours.

Give us a word, they asked. That hope for a word from the Abba, and from God for me has been answered in the practice of lectio divina. I have been given words on which to pray and reflect. I carry the words in a wooden box and still reflect on them as I shuffle through them. Last summer I was given two words that I wrote on an index card and carried around with me not knowing exactly what God was trying to say to me through them. I understand them now. The words I have carried around in my purse and in my prayer for over six months are: Risk and Adaptation. Random, right?

Risk and Adaptation. Yet in the middle of the greatest health crisis most of us have ever seen, these two words have taken on great meaning. Risk is on all of our minds. What is the health risk to us and to vulnerable populations around us? What is the financial risk? What is the risk we face with hospital shortages and not enough ventilators? What are we asking health care providers and grocery store personal and druggists and sanitation workers to risk in keeping essential services going? Risk is an uncomfortable state of being; we are rattled.

And yet, is risk not a part of every day we get into an automobile? Or ride a bicycle on the street? Or fly an airplane? And think of all the activities in which we willingly engage that have risks that we call fun. Hang gliding.  Zip lines. Hover boards. Skiing. Risk aversion is not something we can accomplish; yet mitigation of risk is not a bad idea, especially as we deal with this pandemic.

Adaptation. Life is not static. Life is ever changing even without the health crisis we are now experiencing. When I think about how much adaptation has happened in my own life over the past 30 years, I think about how my energy is not what it once was, nor stamina, nor flexibility, nor skin – Oh Lordy, what happened to the skin!

Life is beautifully dynamic in its ebbs and flows, ups and downs, goings and comings. It’s like riding a wave from the rising to the crashing on the shore. Every day, every year is different. Living adaptation allows us to be present in the moment with joy, no regret, only hope and excitement for what is to come. The truth is a little time at home, disconnected, time to cook meals and weed gardens and be still and quiet is not a bad thing. Our rhythms with learning and preaching and gathering will be different, but we have this day. And for this one day, if I never have another, I give thanks.

Abba Poemen, in Sayings of the Desert Fathers, offers these words: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart. When self will and ease become habitual, they will overthrow you. If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.” He also said concerning Abba Pior, “that every day, he made a new beginning.”

Risk love and compassion. Adapt to a new way of being in the world, a new humility that recognizes human vulnerability and limitation. God is with us in our risk and will empower our adaptations to our current reality. Breathe and keep the faith and find joy in it all. Amen.