Theodorus the Ascetic lived and wrote in Jerusalem and Syria 1100 years ago in the 9th century. He wrote a great deal while living as a monk at the monastery of St Savas. The monks built cells into the caves in the mountain side to find solitude for their spiritual pursuits.
Theodoros, in contemplating his solitude wrote this:
Withdrawal from the world means two things:
the withering of our obsessions
and the revelation of the life that is hidden in Christ [Col. 3:3-4]
Colossians adds to this:
Our old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
In meditating on this I found myself reflecting on three themes: the anxieties that are my obsessions (my past life); the future (glorious) life; and the meaning of living in obscurity. Before you worry none of this means we are going to carve cells out of the caves in some far off desert- as tempting as the idea might be from time to time. Instead, to try to understand these things in the context of withdrawing from the corrupted spiritual priorities of this world and embracing the spiritual priorities that Christ lived and taught.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?
Letting go of Obsessions: I have many. They have controlled me for a long time. I have a fear of failure that has often led me to avoid taking chances, to dodge great opportunities, as I feared failure more than what could be gained. After all, if you fail everyone knows. If you never try, no one will ever know how bad it could have been. I am a bundle of such fears and anxieties: imposter syndrome, hypochondria, obsessive reflections on past failures (including how I asked this one girl out in sixth grade, it went so badly, that my mind likes to torment me about, even to this day) and potential future failures. And many more I am probably forgetting. That is my past life and my present life. I do not desire it to be my future life. It is what I must actively seek to let go. The part of me that is now dead. A collection of obsessions I hope to watch wither. An obstacle in my life, a barrier that creates distance between me and my creator and savior.
And tonight, we all sat together. Sasha and Aramis are gone with relatives, so Allison, Ollie, and I sat together and contemplated what it means to watch our anxieties removed from us. To see the rushing current of the river of God’s love, the life-giving water, as it pushes off beyond the horizon the debris of our anxieties. Indeed, it is a humbling experience to do so alongside my daughter who has borne so much more misery, hardship, and pain than I could ever begin to imagine. I watch her struggle with these things and it breaks my heart. I hope doing these meditations together will allow us to share the struggle, to whatever extent is possible, and allow us to shoulder some small splinter of her cross.
The Future Glorious Life: If this past is dead, then what is to come. The unfulfilling answer is a struggle. A glimpse of the future, the kingdom now that reflects the kingdom to be. Something fleeting, yet worthwhile. An understanding of what it means to live in God’s presence, to experience the mystery of Christ that Paul speaks of, and come as close as possible to understanding what entire freedom from these obsessions can and will mean.
The Meaning of Living in Obscurity: We talked about this together and then reflected on it. Does it mean we shouldn’t do great things? I hope not! Instead, I believe it means we should seek the many opportunities to extend grace, kindness, and help offered to us in life. And in doing so we should not seek the praise of men. We should not seek acknowledgement. We should not seek to be seen as great for our grace. Instead, let us do our good deed in the dark whenever possible. If our deeds are acknowledged we should be gracious, but we should not seek that recognition.
Altogether, I think today was a revelatory experience. Something profound and beautiful for all of us.
*And to those reading this. What do these things mean to you? What anxieties and obsessions plague you that need to wither away? In what ways can you, all of us, labor in obscurity for the Grace of God and His kingdom on this earth?