A brother asked Abba Poemen, “Why should I not be free to do without manifesting my thoughts to the old men?” The old man replied, “Abba John the Dwarf said, ‘The enemy rejoices over nothing so much as those who do not manifest their thoughts.’”

Benedicta Ward, SLG, trans. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1975), p. 181.

The manifestation (or disclosure) of thoughts has a technical meaning in the traditions of desert monasticism. It lies close to the origins of what we would think of as spiritual direction, but also to the sacrament of the reconciliation of a penitent. This is help given by a spiritual elder (father or mother, seldom a priest) to a less experienced monk struggling with thoughts and temptations, often conceived as prompted by demons.

However we understand the demonic, I think there is an important insight here for those of us who struggle with various forms of temptation and sin. Keeping these a secret is no way to triumph over the enemy. The very act of disclosing a thought in the light may open up space for God’s grace to work. I would never discount the particular grace of sacramental absolution from an ordained priest, but in its own way something powerful is also at work when brothers and sisters disclose their hearts and seek wisdom and counsel from discrete and trusted elders, whether or not they happen to be priests. Indeed, in the instant our temptations, sins, and struggles are named as such, they lose some of their power.

Again, however we conceive our ancient enemy, the enemy works best in secret. And the “enemy rejoices over nothing so much as those who do not manifest their thoughts.”

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as rector of Emmanuel Parish, Shawnee in the Diocese of Oklahoma. His new parish blog is Emmanuel Shawnee Blog

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