Go To Your Cell,
And your cell will teach you everything.
This saying is taken from a similar one pronounced by Abba Moses in the C4th; he said… “Go, sit in a cell and your cell will teach you everything.” This call of the Lord comes to the most unlikely of us it seems. For that we should offer great thanks for therein lies the hope that no matter how troubled our lives may be with their twists and turns, mistakes and sins…none of us are beyond redemption through the infinite tenderness and merciful Love of our Creator for His creation, and His infinite understanding of the human condition.
One person who found this to be true was Abba Moses, also known as Abba Moses the Robber, the Abyssinian, the Ethiopian and the Strong, who lived between 330 and 450 and became a notable Desert Father. Before he went to his cell, he had been a servant of a government official in Egypt who dismissed him for theft and suspected murder. On leaving employment he was the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. Reports say he was a large and imposing man.
On attempting a robbery on one occasion, a barking dog prevented him from carrying it out and he swore vengeance. With weapons in his mouth he swam the river to the owners hut. The owner alerted again by his dog, hid and so Moses had to hide from the local authorities and he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Wadi El Natrun, then known as Sketes, near Alexandria. The dedication of these monks as well as their peace and contentment influenced Moses deeply, so much so that he renounced his former life, converted to Christianity and joined the monastic community at Sketes.
The path and experience of life in the cell is rarely a smooth one, the transformation of our personalities and human behaviours is a lengthy process, beset with periods of great inner turmoil and challenge. Moses’ flair for adventure remained with him and when he was attacked by a group of robbers in his cell, he fought back, overpowered them, and then dragged them to the chapel where the monks were at prayer. He asked what he should do with them, no longer feeling it was suitable to hurt them as a Christian. At this the robbers gave up, were themselves converted and joined the community. At another time, when a brother committed a fault, Moses was invited to discuss an appropriate penance and refused to go. When he was again summoned, he took a leaking jug filled with water and the other monks asked him why he was carrying it. He replied, “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the sins of another?” The errant monk was forgiven.
The lesson of the cell is the turning of our attention inwards in order to hear the Lord and his teaching of us. It is also the place where trusting we are within His presence we may offer up ourselves in service and love, and offer our praises. In the cell there is no place to hide; no place to run, thus everything is magnified. In the cell we cannot turn on the TV, text or email or perform any number of distracting activities. We face the Lord alone and we face ourselves. It can be an extremely uncomfortable and challenging place to inhabit. The unkind words we have spoken, the lies we may have told, the injustices we have committed, the judgments on others we have passed…all come back to us magnified and clear as water for us to view and offer up to God for His infinite mercy and transformation. The cell is a transformative place of forgiveness and it is we that are being transformed in the fires of Love’s penance. And yet it also offers ultimate freedom, as gradually we realise with our changing perception that its outward appearance of confinement is actually our gateway to unlimited freedom.
Some think of an enclosed life as an escape, a lying down of responsibility to the world and yet in this more formal form, the cell is the place where the foundations of all life are laid and all is up for challenge and overcoming. It is an extremely intensive experience; some describe it as a battleground. In a sense it can be a battleground, between the renunciations of small individual will and the laying over of Gods Will in order to meld with, unite with and act as God created us to be before we got distracted. In this cell we are called home by Love, invited to cease being the prodigal son, to take our rightful place at the feast in our honour.
In The Last Battle by CS Lewis, the individual creatures are invited to step through what appears to be a random doorway. It is a request that involves ultimate trust that what lies on the other side is beneficial, without having any way of knowing. It is a metaphor for passing through death into paradise. Aslan [Christ] knows what lies beyond but the creatures do not. They must trust but they must also accept the invitation. And so it is with the cell. We enter the cell by Christ’s invitation, we submit to its fires of transformation by our own free choice and we must trust that all will indeed be well, for Christ it is who knows what is beyond it. The cell teaches us, it transforms us into living lights of the Highest Holy of Holies.
We are all invited….