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Lent Day 32 - Thursday

Day 32

Over the next few days, we’ll spend time with some quotations from the life of St. Mary of Egypt, the one that’s a part of the Great Compline service.  “There he saw elders proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in spirit, working for the Lord. They sang incessantly, they stood in prayer all night, work was ever in their hands and psalms on their lips. Never an idle word was heard among them, they knew nothing about acquiring temporal goods or the cares of life. But they had one desire -- to become in body like corpses. Their constant food was the Word of God, and they sustained their bodies on bread and water, as much as their love for God allowed them.  Seeing this, Zosimas was greatly edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.”

This is from the beginning of the story, when Zosimas the monk leaves the monastery where he grew up and travels to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan River.  He was looking for monks who were very serious about the ascetic life, and he found them at that monastery, describing them as “aflame in spirit.”

The lives of monastics are different than the lives of those outside the monastery, because they do indeed seek to leave the world behind them and become, as the life of St. Mary says, “in (the) body like corpses.”

But one part of this passage always catches my attention, where it says, “they sang incessantly,” and, “work was ever in their hands and psalms on their lips,” and, “their constant food was the word of God.”

There was a time in my life when I was a part of a group of Christians who placed a great emphasis on the memorization of the word of God.  I’ve told the story before about being in a car accident where I broke the windshield with my head, and as that happened, I distinctly heard the words, “Do not fear for I am with you, do not anxiously look around you for I am your God.”  This was not God talking to me, but scripture that I had memorized.  It was up there in my head and the windshield made it bounce up to the surface at just the right time.

Many popular sayings come from the scriptures, so that the word of God was always on the lips of English speakers (of previous generations), even when they didn’t know it: eat, drink and be merry, fly in the ointment, go the extra mile, and so on.  But it takes effort to commit the Word of God to memory so that it can indeed be always on our lips, always informing our hearts.

Perhaps, brothers and sisters, we cannot become corpses while still alive in our commitment to the Kingdom of God and our denial of the Kingdom of the world, but it is well within our reach to spend at least some time committing the word of God to memory, to the benefit of our souls.

We have come to Thursday of the fifth week, you and I the co-travellers, the thirty second day of the fast.  May our feet fall into the marks made by the saints of old, like St. Mary of Egypt, and may we experience some small part of their grace.  Amen.

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