Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Word of the Day is Onuphrius

The line goes, "If you were on a deserted island, what are the 5 (fill in the blank)s that you could not live without?"

If I were on a deserted island, then I'd have to bring along the Desert Fathers. This book is in the top 2 of my top 5 books:

Am I the only one seeing Obi Wan Kenobi and Billy Joel?
When I'm out of reading material and knocking around looking for something that isn't a comic book or boring, I pick this baby up and am never disappointed.

Onuphrius is also called Humphrey. Ha. Funny
In short, the "Desert Fathers" were the earliest monks in the Christian tradition. They settled in the desert of Egypt around the first century of Christianity to abandon the world (the cities) and to live lives of contemplation, penance and service. They set up cells and communities that lasted for about 500 years. Some communities, in a form, exist today.
Rare did the monk go back to the city or when a city dweller would come to the desert for a prayer or counsel, sometimes the monk would ignore the request or keep the visit short. So short sometimes that they would only give the seeker a word. This response became so expected that the person would ask, "A word, father?"
If I were a monk, I'd mess with them and say a word like, "Cheese" or "Slacks" or "Monkey" which are three very funny words.

Today on the ancient church calendar, one of the greatest desert monks is remembered. Onuphrius,was the legendary hermit who supposedly got his catechism from a deer, received Communion daily from an angel and wore nothing but a beard and leaves. He claimed that he lived "in the love of God".

Freedom from concern or worry was a goal of the desert monk. To follow Christ's command that we "not worry about tomorrow" (Mt 6:34), the monks would abandon anything that smacked of self-sufficiency and invest in radical trust. The rules they lived under were either enforced communally or under the supervision of the "Father" of the fathers (sort of what an abbot does now). Even though they lived rigorously, they didn't live foolishly. They made rope to sell which took care of some of their needs. Sometimes the errant monk would decide he was too holy for work and rules and claim he'd reached perfection. One such story tells of a monk stripping naked and wandering into the desert because he'd become as pristine as an angel. A few days later, he was banging on the door of the conclave to be let in. A monk yelled back, "It can't be you (I think it was Colobus, because this is soooooooooooo Colobus) because he's an angel now."
Mr. Natural would be an awesome desert father.

Monastic doozshery.

The Desert Fathers "speak" to me unlike the more sensitive and gentle spiritual writers. Some people like "Chicken Soup for the Soul", I like the Soup Nazis of the Soul. NO FREE HUGS FOR YOU! I like my spiritual counsel grumpy, old and quick. Mr. Natural style.

If you want some good summer reading that is both spiritually challenging and entertaining, get this book. The translation by Benedicta Ward is the best (she was an Anglican nun) and it's available from amazon and other places. It's cheap too. About 10 bucks or in monk terms, 2 ropes.

Again, it's an inspiring book but as a pastor I have to caution the reader "DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME" before they run off, go buck-nekkid and wait for a forest animal to teach them. Oxford Police will think you're on acid and take you back to the frat house.

Just saying.