Said the Abbess Matrona: “Many people living secluded lives on the mountain have perished by living like people in the world. It is better to live in a crowd and want to live a solitary life than to live a solitary life but all the time be longing for company.”
If I am not mistaken, I adapted this saying for my tagline: “Living in the world. Longing for the desert.” I am married to a wonderful woman, and we have a wonderful son who is the cutest baby (possibly cutest creature) that the world has ever seen. I am very blessed and would not really prefer to be in the desert as a hermit. It is the spirit of the desert that I want. I want the stillness, the discipline, the peace that comes from an inner flight away from “the world”—all that is transient—and to a place free from those things, a place of clearer spiritual vision: the desert.
One need not flee to a literal desert. Even St. Seraphim of Sarov, who was a hermit, did not live in a literal desert. Instead, he lived in a Russian forest and called it a desert. I suppose it qualifies as a wilderness, but it is not quite the same thing as an arid, dusty, and … well … dead place like the desert. Forests are full of life. The important thing is that St. Seraphim’s “desert” afforded him the necessary solitude to cultivate a still and peaceful spirit. “Acquire a peaceful spirit,” he is known to have said, “and around you thousands will be saved.” To put it another way: become a fire and all those around you will be warmed and enlightened.
I do not, with my family, have the opportunity for years, months, weeks, or even days of solitude. The best I get is an hour or two every now and then. Such is the life of the world. I hope that I use that time wisely. Too often the temptation draws me in: “What’s happening on Facebook? What’s new in your friends’ lives?” I love my friends, and I am grateful for such a useful networking tool, but sitting alone and wasting time on Facebook (or whatever else: online gaming, texting, etc.), just to establish a rather shallow sense of being connected with other human beings is not community, far from it. It is living on a mountain and longing for the company of others, being one prayer away from the presence of God and wishing to be somewhere else, doing something, anything else (like blogging?). I hope to cultivate a better attitude. I hope that, even when surrounded by the warmth of my wonderful family, I never forget the greater joy of my Father in heaven and seek every opportunity to acquire spiritual peace, and just maybe I can have something so wonderful to share with them.