In my studies as a novice for the Benedictine Oblates I receive monthly lessons to read with questions to reflect on. There was one in the first 4-5 months that gave a little history of hermits and monks in the Christian tradition. It was interesting to read, but one particular part stuck out.
I learned in my reading that the first Christian hermits went out into the desert to battle evil spirits and to encounter the devil. In early Christian times the desert was thought of as the place where the devil lived. These hermits were not trying to escape the evils of the world (as if often thought, even today, of people who join a cloistered monastery or convent), but to pray for the world to be rid of evil spirits. They were doing the battles against evil so that others didn't have to.
It was a noble thing which took much perseverance and, let's face it, a lot of guts!
Eventually, hermits gathered followers and they were no longer as alone as they would have wanted. Thus monasteries started forming and we had the beginnings of Christian monks living in community.
[I am qualifying "monks" because the idea of monks is even more ancient than Christianity. I do not know the history of Buddhist monks or any other religious monks, I'm only speaking of monks in Christian terms.]
Yesterday I was thinking about this a lot. I decided for Lent this year to participate in the Lenten Photo Challenge hosted by Catholic Sistas. I am not a photographer and I am not super creative in the visual arts. So this has truly been a challenge for me. Tuesday's word was "desert." I was at a total loss, but I kept thinking about the early hermits and why they sought out the desert as the place to live their lives for God.
After dinner, a thought struck me as I was trying to guzzle down more water. Water!! Yes, the exact opposite of the desert is water.
As it turns out, I am currently in Denver, CO for a week-long conference. I learned, just before coming here, that due to the altitude, it is very important to drink lots of water. Altitude sickness is a real thing. So I bought some six packs of water at a local convenience store and will likely be getting more in another day or two.
I reflected on this tonight and thought about the need the body has for water, not just here in the Mile High City, but also in places like the desert. It occurred to me that water is necessary for the physical body in the desert, so the hermits of the early Church needed water just as much as they needed God. They needed to not only strengthen their spirit through prayer and a relationship with God, but they also needed water for their physical strength.
So, yes, I took a picture of water for today's desert theme, but it still works. For me, I see water as a symbol of life and you cannot survive in the desert without it. In the same way, we cannot survive spiritually without prayer, which leads us to a more intimate relationship with God.
Without water we would die physically, without prayer we would die spiritually. So drink up and don't forget to hydrate as well.