Thursday, October 22, 2009

Poustinia

Poustinia is "an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place, where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in atonement, intercession, reparation for one's sins and those of one's brothers.... To go into the poustinia means to listen to God. It means entering into kenosis — the emptying of oneself." (Catherine Doherty, Poustinia)

To be still is a great exercise of soul, to be quiet and surrender one's mind and thoughts. Our lives today are filled to the brim with noise, and rightly so, for the mandates of this life we live demand far more rapid and attentive devotion then did the lives of our Fathers. It is a necessary condition of our time, but one that may become all consuming when considered as an end unto itself.

There is a need in man for quiet, where he may go to rest his body, weary from manual labor, and his soul, weary from the tangle of his mind. Robert Bolt once said that "God made man to serve him in the tangle of his wits" and so it is with us today, but this does not deny, nor lessen in any way our continual need for peace. We are creatures of great passion, but who become very tired, very tired indeed. Deep in his roots man has a need for the ultimate peace, who is Jesus himself, and when we try to fill our need for God with transient and unfulfilling things, he leads himself along a short route to supreme unhappiness.

For that is what a disquiet soul experiences, unhappiness. When the human person fails to reach his full potential, his conscience is fully cognizant of this, even though his consciousness may be partially unaware, and he is disturbed. Our souls were made to be a constant output of love, and when cut off from a source of replenishment, we cease being able to give. Like a stream must be fed from a plentiful source before it can water the fields and flowers who thrive on its rivulets, so we too must have ourselves a well-spring of happiness, else we become choked up and dry. Without peace in our souls we can not give it to others.

This dryness is completely abhorrent to our nature, which is to be a giver. Without giving of ourselves, we can not be who we are meant to be, and thus wither away, unable to reach our full potential as humans. We must go into the Poustinia, into the great silence, in order to find our replenishment, to find our source of life and peace. We must be still and listen to the quietness, a silent retreat to be refreshed and to offer thanksgiving to the spring of our peace.

A quiet of soul, yes, and a rest of body. We are our bodies as much as we are our souls, and they are in sorry need of rest as well, sometimes more. We have a tendency to forget the need of our bodies for rest (though we feel it most apparently), for our souls are immortal and our bodies shall die, and thus many choose to forgo the replenishment of a bodily need. What must never be forgotten is that the soul and the body are inseparably linked. Without adequate rest for the body, the soul will also be disquiet and disturbed, unable to find rest in the weariness of its fleshly self. Therefore it is necessary that one find rest for the body as well as for the soul, and continually.

Continually I say, because the human must continue to be replenished. It is no good giving him a single dose of rest and sending him on his way. Peace is not a vaccination against unhappiness, it operates in a continuous flow, or doses, so that one might never be exhausted or spent, but can give and keep giving without reserve. The well-spring of peace is never exhausted, so drink in, and drink deeply.

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