“My father,” [Naaman’s servants] said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down, and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him “Father, give me a word.” The old man said to him “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
* * *
It is the ordinary stuff of life that most escapes our sense of God’s presence: if it is an ordinary thing, God must not really be involved in it. The miraculous is extraordinary, we think. Miracles, like that which Naaman desired, look spectacular. The miracle he got, however, was no less miraculous for being ordinary.
Unfortunately, progress in Christian faith seems to require, as Naaman’s servants and the desert fathers and mothers knew, a steady diet of very ordinary disciplines. Ascetic superheroes get short schrift in the Sayings; Elisha sent Naaman to wash in the Jordan, and Abba Moses sent the brother to go and sit in his cell. Nothing fancy.
Once upon a time, I used to try do do heroic things during Lent. Then I had children. Now I find that the most basic observance of Lent, according to what the Church teaches, can be a struggle. Is this it? I wonder. Is this really all I can do? And is that enough?
We don’t get to choose how we suffer for the sake of the gospel. We don’t get to choose which things will form us in obedience and humility. If we did, well, it wouldn’t be obedience, would it? So I drag myself through this Lent, hoping I can make a good confession between now and Holy Week, at least. Somewhere in the dragging, the apparently meaningless and pointless suffering of a very low mood, God is at work. All is now chaos and darkness, and the swirling, struggling feeling inside must be the Spirit, stirring up the water, making ready in some mysterious way for that great command: fiat lux!
And there will be light. There will be light. Not because of anything I do or do not do, but because the One who commands all our obedience is faithful and strong and true: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
In the meantime, I think I’ll look again at the inside of my cell, and see what it has to teach me.