Daily Meditations

The Cell, Meeting God and Ourselves (Part X) The Cell and the World

The Cell and the World 

Is anachoresis a rejection of the inhabited world? Is the solitude and inwardness of the cell a selfish endeavor? The desert abbas and ammas helped form a wider Christian monastic tradition that combines seeking God with conversion of life. In the cell the monk risks all in the battle between the ego (subjectivity) and openness to the Other. Through ascetic praxis the boundaries of the self are extended beyond itself and the opportunity for transformation is made possible. [42]

One purpose of the cell is to make a new reality of time present to the “open soul.” [43] This new experience of time fills the soul with a life of prayer that absorbs the love of God and expands the cell to include the monk’s daily living beyond the cell.

One day Abba Daniel and Abba Ammoes went on a journey together. Abba Ammoes said, “When shall we, too, settle down, in a cell, rather?” Abba Daniel replied, “Who shall separate us henceforth from God? God is in the cell, and, on the other hand, he is outside also. [44]

The goal of the monk’s openness in the cell is to allow the realm of God to tit itself within the monk’s soul. The cell and the world can then occupy the same space. “Abba Poemen said, ‘Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart’.” [45] The spiritual praxis of the cell becomes integrated with all other aspects of the monk’s life.

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, “] have found a place where peace is not disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?” The old man said to him, “The place for you is where you will not harm your brother.” [46]

In the cell, where ascetical practice occupies the monk’s chronological time, eschatological time breaks in so that the monk can see all time in the context of the eternal purposes of God. The values of God’s realm become embodied in chronological time and the monk experiences eternal life within time and space! [47]

In summary, the grace of a cell is that through openness we can see ourselves as more than our ego. We learn that we are not fully human until we become aware of our completeness in a Reality beyond ourselves. The cell, then, is a home where we are guided to that complete humanity whose boundaries are congruent with the realm of God. Therefore, the cell extends our experience rather than limiting it. Union with God initiates a simultaneous communion with our historical and chronological community, but with eyes to see its eternal purpose and sanctity. The cell is necessary to overcome insensitivity to the world, which is sin. It does not imprison us from life. It extends us further into life. It brings us home.

The influence of a cell extends far beyond the deserts of Egypt and the lives of the desert fathers and mothers. We must find ways to withdraw from our twenty-first-century “inhabited world” and balance our busy and responsible lives with disciplined prayer in a cell appropriate for each of our lives. Without this intentional withdrawal for solitude, we risk closing our hearts and minds to the flow of God’s Spirit in our lives. Personal prayer in our cells, whenever they are, is opening our souls to the energies of God.

~David G.R. Keller, Oasis of Wisdom: The Worlds of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

42. See Ramfos, Pelican, 34.

43. Ibid., see 35-36 for a discussion of the movement of God in an open soul.

44. Ward, Sayings, Daniel, 5, 52.

45. Ibid., Poemen 164, 189.

46. Ibid., Poemen 159, 189.

47. This section on the monk and the world is indebted to Stelios Ramos in Pelican, 37-39, but I take responsibility for my own research and conclusions.