Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Poustinia. It’s the Russian word for “desert”, vast areas of sand and sun where the essence of life is reduced to the bare essentials such as finding shelter, water and food in order to survive. Actually, I think it’s better described as a place of liberation; not a reduction of life, but a liberation of life from all the nonessentials.

Poustinia also has a connotation related to the Fathers of the Desert, those first Christian hermits who sought an ascetic life in the harsh climate of the Egyptian deserts during the third century. It means entering a place of contemplation and seeking God in solitude and prayer. And most interesting, it does not have to be a place away from humanity, but may be found in the corner of our homes or driving to work.

Through my Finan* readings for the month of December, this word has become fond and familiar; it has provided a name for a concept I found difficult to describe and define. The poustinia is a place I wish to enter, especially during this time of year when so much is going on around me; I need a place of silence in order to understand the noise. God makes solitude and silence holy. If I don’t stop, if I never take time to be still, if I never actively seek meditation upon His Word, I am missing a vital need. And one that strengthens not only me, but those around me.
"Stand still, and allow the strange, deadly restlessness of our tragic age to fall away like the worn-out dusty cloak that it is -- a cloak that was once considered beautiful. The restlessness was considered the magic carpet to tomorrow, but now in reality we see it for what it is: a running away from oneself, a turning from that journey inward that all men must undertake to meet God dwelling within the depths of their souls."
For me, entering the poustinia, may mean turning off the radio, computer and phone in order to pray and read, or going for a walk and saying prayers. One thing I’ve discovered is that although I feel refreshed and renewed during those first quiet minutes, eventually, I am uncomfortable in the silence. I am uncomfortable when the motives of my heart are laid bare...yet, without discomfort we never grow.

Sometime I would like to extend myself and go away to a little cabin on a snowy mountain that is warm but bare, having no choice of music cd’s or a fat bookshelf, with only water and bread and my bible. I am sure I would enjoy that initial excitement of a new adventure, but it is the stipping away, the liberation of my body from too many comforts, that would be painful ...and blessed.
Stand still, and look deep into the motivations of life. Stand still, and lifting your hearts and hands to God pray that the mighty wind of His holy Spirit may clear all the cobwebs of fears, selfishness, greed, narrow-heartedness away from the soul: that His tongues of flame may descend to give courage to begin again.”
*Finan readings are from Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community.  Quotes are from these readings.
*Photo is from the Madonna House


Anonymous said...

Taped to the doors of the sanctuary in All Saints Orthodox Church in Raleigh NC: "God sometimes speaks in a still, soft voice. Turn off your cell phones so we can hear Him."

Fr. Andrew said...

This word made its way into the name of one of the major Russian monasteries: Optina Pustyn, home of the famous Optina Elders.

amy said...

I like the note! ..may also be appropriate in our bulletin periodically =-)

Very interesting, Fr. Andrew; I appreciate the comment

E.B. said...

Great post, Amy, much to think on.

When I read this the other week, I also enjoyed the cabin picture and clicked on the link. Very interesting place. My Mom had a hectic week and said, "I'm joining a monastery!" I said, I think I found just the place for you and sent her the link!

amy said...

E. B.,

thanks! ..and, I hope your mom finds some blessed quiet time =-)

Happy New Year!

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