Flight from the World
Changing the way we go about life is not all that difficult. We all do it all the time. We change jobs, states, houses, relationships, lifestyles over and over again as the years go by. But those are, in the main, very superficial changes. Real change is far deeper than that. It is changing the way we look at life that is the stuff of conversion.
Metanoia, conversion, is an ancient concept that is deeply embedded in the monastic worldview. Early seekers went to the desert to escape the spiritual aridity of the cities, to concentrate on the things of God. “Flight from the world”—separation from the systems and vitiated values that drove the world around them—became the mark of the true contemplative. To be a contemplative in a world bent on materialism and suffocated with itself, conversion was fundamental. But conversion to what? To deserts? Hardly. The goal was purity of heart, single-mindedness of search, focus of life.
We do not need to leave where we are in order to become contemplative. Otherwise, the Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee surrounded by lepers and children and sick people and disciples and crowds of the curious and the committed was no contemplative either. Jesus the healer, the prophet, the preacher, the teacher, by that standard, was not engrafted into the mind of God. The thought appalls. No, surely contemplation is not a matter of place.
“Flight from the world” is not about leaving any specific location. “Flight from the world” is about shedding one set of attitudes, one kind of consciousness for another. On the contrary, we simply have to be where we are with a different state of mind. We have to be in the office with the good of the whole world in mind. We have to be on the corporate board with the public at heart. We have to be in the home in a way that has more to do with development than with control.
What needs to be changed in us? Anything that makes us the sole center of ourselves. Anything that deludes us into thinking that we are not simply a work in progress, all of whose degrees, status, achievements, and power are no substitute for the wisdom that a world full of God everywhere, in everyone, has to teach us.
To become a contemplative, a daily schedule of religious events and practices is not enough. We must begin to do life, to be with people, to accept circumstances, to bring good to evil in ways that speak of the presence of God in every moment.
—from Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis)