The desert of the heart

Daily Reading for June 9 • Columba, Abbot of Iona, 597

Any account of Celtic monasticism must become an account far more of persons than of institutions. It revolves around the achievements of men and women who have become known to us for the dedication of their lives. To their contemporaries they were soon known as saints. Their lives of single-minded devotion have given rise to many legends which have become so marked a characteristic of Celtic Christianity. . . .

St. Columba, one of the most familiar and well-loved of all Celtic monks, has the advantage of a very distinguished biographer in Adomnan who wrote his life a comparatively short time after his death. Here we are shown both the humanity of the man and also those qualities of holiness which his contemporaries recognized, and which in their eyes carried him beyond the limitations of the present world. . . .

St. Columba himself of course knew the life of both monk and hermit. . . . Celtic spirituality has always been clear about the role and importance of solitary life, whether for a certain time each year, or whether for a certain period during a lifetime—for the underlying principle is that a life of activity in the world is only made possible if it is nourished by times of withdrawal into solitude and silence.

But in the end solitude is not so much a place as a state of mind and heart: it is the ability to enter into the desert of the heart, the poustinia, the inner cave of the heart, however one might wish to describe it. It is an inner attentiveness to God, a continual stream of contemplation which becomes possible even in the midst of crowds, noise, and the demands of daily life.

From Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition by Esther de Waal. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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