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Looking like monastics

I am deep in literature about Medieval women and mystics at the moment as I research for a term paper in Church history. At the same time, in our class readings last week we looked at the Desert Fathers. Some of those saying were just simple common sense, but others reveal a real desire to live a life of self-denial and humility. One of the sayings caught my attention:

A hermit said, 'This is the life of a monk; work, obedience, meditation, not to judge others, not to speak evil, not to murmur. For it is written "You who love God, hate the thing that is evil" (Ps. 97:10). This is monastic life: not to live with the wicked, not to see evil, not to be inquisitive, not to be curious, not to listen to gossip, not to use the hands for taking, but for giving; not to be proud in heart or bad in thought, not to fill the belly, in everything to judge wisely. This is the life of a true monk.

Some of those are very worthy aspirations. I'm all for hating evil and avoiding gossip. I'm against pride in my heart and bad thoughts. But I did raise my eyebrows at the admonition not to be curious or inquisitive. That attitude was not confined to the Desert Fathers. In some of the reading regarding women that I've done, I have discovered the reality of a premium put on the spirit above the intellect, despite the fact that many of the notable women of the Middle Ages were well-educated. For example, Hadewijch, a 13th century monastic woman was herself educated, but she did not believe that reason was the clearest path to God, and placed value on the spirit above the intellect.

The sentiment that a developed intellect interferes with our spirituality is alive and well. On more than one occasion, when women find out I'm in seminary (and even before then, when I said I liked to read theology) I've been met with the comment, "Well, I just really depend on the Spirit to teach me." 

I see some similarities between monastic women of the Middle Ages and groups of women today in the principle of separating ourselves. I saw it alive and well in homeschooling circles when my kids were younger. I've come across it with other women who will vigorously reject the use of a commentary in a Bible study because they want the Spirit to teach them. This notion of a simple life, free from the interferences of the secular world is promoted as the higher spiritual life.

I occasionally feel like my own curiosity and inquisitiveness is looked upon by other women as one of those weaknesses that must be tolerated, sort of like being the one in the crowd with the irritating, loud laugh; probably not something to be encouraged too much.

In reality, it's not the curiosity itself that is the problem; it's the content. Women are expected and encouraged to be curious, but perhaps not about theology. I don't understand why some women are curious about what movie stars wore on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. I am not curious about the lives and happenings of celebrities, but many women are. Curiosity isn't necessarily bad; it's just that there is an expectation of what we should be curious about. 

Men and women who went into monasteries were often looked upon as being elite Christians. I wonder sometimes if we think that by separating ourselves we are demonstrating a superior spirituality. I have yet to be convinced that shunning learning makes me more spiritual.


Day by Day

See below for a beautiful a capella rendition.

Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Give unto each day what he deems best.
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord himself is with me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares he fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow'r.
The protection of his child and treaure
Is a charge that on himself he laid;
"As the days, thy strength shall be in measure,"
This the pledge to me he made.

Help me, then, in every tribulation
So to trust thy promises, O Lord;
That I lost not faith's sweet consolation
Offered me within thy holy word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E'er to take, as from a father's hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land.


Our Great God

Eternal God, unchanging,
mysterious and unknown;
Your boundless love, unfailing,
In grace and mercy shown.
Bright seraphim in ceaseless flight
around your glorious throne;
They raise their voices day and night
in praise to you alone!

Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!
Hallelujah! Glory to be our great God!

Lord, we are weak and frail,
Helpless in the storm;
Surrounds us with your angels
Hold us in your arms.
Our cold and ruthless enemy,
His pleasure is our harm.
Rise up, O Lord, and he will flee
Before our sovereign God.

Let every creature in the sea
And every flying bird,
Let every mountain, every field
And valley of the earth,
Let all the moons and all the stars
In all the universe,
Sing praises to the living God
who rules them by his word.


Don't be afraid of the big bad medication

There is a particular shame in the Church when one has depression or anxiety. When I was under the weight of a very bad bout, I was afraid to tell anyone. I remember distinctly sitting in a class of women, ready to teach, and struggling with the fact that the pants I was wearing that day had become baggy due the weight I had lost without trying. What did that mean? Was I dying? The anxiety overwhelmed me, and all I could do was pray that I would make it through the lesson. No one in the room knew what was going on inside of me. Even telling some family members was something I did not want to do.

When people know we have anxiety, we get labelled. When my son was married in August, two days before his wedding, I had a very bad gastrointestinal virus. There I was, two days before the wedding, wondering if I was going to end up running out of the church auditorium in the middle of the service to toss my cookies. When I mentioned my illness to someone who knows I struggle with anxiety, her automatic comment was "It's anxiety." She even recommended I go back on my medication.

Yes, I took medication during the worst of my anxiety. That is also something one must be afraid to admit. When people hear that you're taking medication, they may react negatively. There are some who believe that by taking medication, we are denying God's sufficiency; that it is admitting that we don't trust God. Some Christians want to say that all mental illness is false; that it's just our sin. I thank God today that someone suggested I go on medication. It was the difference between cowering in my house, afraid to leave it, and being able to have people in to visit. It meant not being afraid to drive somewhere. It meant my husband didn't have to work at home many mornings because I hated being alone. Praise God that I have been able to wean myself from my medication, but I'm thankful I had it. 

I'm also thankful for voices like Shona Murray's. She, along with her husband, David, has written a book called Refresh. I recently bought it for Kindle, and when I have some downtime from school, I want to read it and review it at Out of the Ordinary. Shona has written an article for the Crossway blog where she talks about what she learned during her struggle with depression and anxiety. I was so grateful to her for sharing that she is not afraid of taking medication. 

We need more women like Shona who will share these things with us. It helps to remove the stigma of this struggle. If we're ashamed, we might not seek help, and that can't be good for us or our families. For many weeks, I denied that I was struggling with anxiety. I was ashamed and embarrassed. When I was able to share those details with someone, it was a huge relief. 

I am thankful for the men and women who will share their experiences.

NOTE: In the original post, I drew a comparison between how people suffering anxiety are treated more harshly than those who may suffer from weight management issues. I received feedback, suggesting that the comment was insensitive, and upon reflection, I agree, so I have removed the comment.


Non nobis domine

One of my favourite movies is Kenneth Branagh's Henry V. There is a scene after the battle of Agincourt where the battered and bruised sing in Latin the first verse of Psalm 115: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. In Latin, it is: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; sed nomine tuo da gloriam. That moment is one of the best scenes from that movie.

Psalm 115 is a favourite of mine. If you're praying through the Psalms, that opening verse is always a good thing to pray. The verses following talk about the danger of idols. The nations ask, "Where is your God?" The Psalmist goes on to describe the idols of the nations. They are material objects; silver and gold. They have mouths, but don't speak, eyes, but can't see; ears, but can't hear; noses, but can't smell. They are basically useless.

We all have our own idols. We know the typical ones: money, beauty, power. We can turn just about anything into an idol. And many of us find out to our detriment that they are useless things in the end. One of the most persistent idols even among Christians is the idol of recognition. We can excuse our efforts of erecting that idol by saying that we just want to minister to people; we just want to share the gospel; we just want to be a good example to other Christians. We're not seeking recognition; we're just serving God, right? Perhaps. There is a difference between those who are recognized for their service, and for those whose service is a means to get recognized. And the latter are easy to spot. 

If I'm irritated when I don't get recognized, or if I have to remind everyone that I'm the one who did this or that, I may be getting close to wanting the glory for myself. If I'm not willing to be regularly unrecognized, what is my true motive? If someone doesn't tell me "That was a good lesson," or "That was a good point," will I become disgruntled? If no one responds to my Tweets, will I simply start saying more and more to increase my chances of being recognized? How does that attitude affect the service I do for God? What is the motive for my service?

It's part of our nature to desire the recognition that is only due to God. For some, it's more of a weakness. But we all could use a little more of an attitude of Psalm 115:1.