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Wisdom from isolation

Brendan Nicholls  |  17 September 2020

As we continue to make sacrifices to reduce the number of Coronavirus infections here in Victoria and await the ‘steady and safe’ steps towards the easing of restrictions there is much to contemplate.

Our Ignatian tradition is based on contemplation and the desire to find God in all things. Being aware of God’s presence can help illuminate both our journey and goal. It can also bring great comfort even in the midst of disruption. The Ignatian term for this complete joy is consolation.

In the Early Church, there was a movement in Egypt to strip away the temptations of urban life and seek silence so God could be more easily encountered. These early hermits are known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers and their communities became the model for monastic life in our Church.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers are commonly referred to individually as abba (father) and amma (mother). These mystics were well ahead of their time and their experience and wisdom have for thousands of years offered insight and guidance.

As an Ignatian community, we know of St Ignatius who entered his own ‘cell’ at Manresa and found that being removed from daily life helped him also encounter God. As we continue this extended period of isolation spending time contemplating the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers might offer great profit.

I offer you the following in the hope that this timeless wisdom speaks to your heart, guides your soul and pray that you experience consolation even during these difficult times.


For God is silence, and in silence is he sung by means of that psalmody which is worthy of Him. I am not speaking of the silence of the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without knowing how to sing in mind and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied and becomes filled with evil thoughts: … There is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence of the spirit.  – Abba John the Solitary 

Watching means to sit in the cell and be always mindful of God. This is what is meant by, ‘I was on the watch and God came to me.’ – Abba John the Dwarf

Someone asked Abby Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘… whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes… ‘ – Abba Anthony the Great

Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer. – Abba Nilus

Be solitary…and be at peace. – Abba Arsenius


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