Fleeing vs Staying according to the former Archbishop of Canterbury

Ever since I left my parents for college I have not lived in a house for more than two years – except for the current one – it holds the record of four years! I have been used to moving a lot. In some cases it was a “running to” in others it was a “running from”. This movement has solid ancient precedents. The desert fathers and mothers of the early church are well known for moving away from it all. But of course their movement is also one of running from and to at the same time. They left everyday life in order to find solitude. But they also receive visitors and students. Rowan Williams beautifully unearths the story of Abba Arsenius and Abba Moses. These ancient saints gave the book its title. One sat in complete silence with the Holy Spirit, while the other was in a large group sharing honey cakes. Solitude and community are both equally important. And even going to the desert as an hermit does not change that dynamic. Eventually the former Archbishop of Canterbury offers a compelling reframing of what it means to flee or to stay. Fleeing like the desert fathers and mothers left civilization is hardly running from. They intentionally avoided distraction from the inner work they had to do. They avoided other people’s projections. They were running to focus and intentionality. In the final chapter Williams makes the case for staying. Just because routine gets boring or just because you start feeling an itch to move after a few years does not mean you should follow it. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side. Ultimately Williams succeeds in separating the concepts of fleeing and staying from a localized understanding. You can distract yourself in your community and miss your actual purpose. You can move half around the world and still be stuck in old unhealthy patterns. As long as movement is not about avoiding what needs to be done but a movement into development work it is good. As long as staying is not just laziness but enhances focus it is good. You should read Silence and Honey Cakes. It is enlightening and charming with cute British phrases like “shan’t”.

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