swim

A Still Small Voice: the Ascetic Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God. –St. Isaac the Syrian

I took a deep breath and plunged into the water, goggles snug against my face, arms moving rhythmically as I swam to the opposite end of the pool. Surrounded by the smell of chlorine, the sound of the water lapping against my body, the calm blue of the bottom of the pool, and guided by the strict black lane lines; I allowed the frustration of the day to melt away as I felt my heart begin to tune to God again. This is my place of solitude and austerity. This is where I have discovered the ascetic path to worship God. This is where I find my heart and mind can finally quiet down. Focusing on the strokes and the breathing creates a gentle rhythm where God begins to speak to me.

What is it

The Ascetic pathway is finding connection with God through solitude, austerity, and strictness.

Solitude Time alone is essential for the ascetic pathway. It’s your time to disconnect from the distractions of the world, the expectations of others, and instead allow God to speak to you as you. Some ascetics practice a life of solitude through monasticism or living as a hermit. But you can find solitude within your life by blocking out a time and place to be alone. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime of solitude. You can arrive at the office before anyone else, you can use your morning commute as your alone time, or, like me, you can jump in the pool and spend some time alone. Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, found solitude by pulling her apron over her head.

Austerity Next you have to block out distractions in order to focus on God. Unlike the sensate who is connected to God through multiple sensory interactions, the ascetic reduces sensory input in order to reduce distraction from prayer. This may mean seeking out silence or simplicity of surroundings.

Strictness Ascetics focus on their connection to God by living lives of discipline and order. They may follow certain rules, not out of legalism, but “because they want to reserve a major portion of their lives for their passionate pursuit of God” (Sacred Pathways, p. 114). This can come in the form of disciplines, rule following, fasting, simplicity and living with less.

asceticism

Notable examples

John the Baptist, though often remembered for his harsh preaching, was an ascetic. He found his calling while in the desert alone with God. His life is a reminder to us that the ascetic pathway doesn’t mean we stay in the wilderness. He was closest to God in the desert, but he was obedient to go into the city when God called him. Susanna Wesley, mother of famous missionaries and church hisory figues John and Charles Wesley was an ascetic who found her closest connection with God when she was alone. As the mother of ten children she didn’t get much alone time, often left by her husband to raise the children and manage the house on her own. She found her solace under her apron. Her children knew that when her apron was draped over her head they needed to leave her alone. Elijah’s experience of finding God in the still, small voice during his exile in the wilderness is another example of the ascetic pathway. As a prophet, Elijah was familiar with large and obvious displays of God’s power, such as the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. But in his season of depression, believing he was the only follower of God left, God spoke to him on the mountain, not in loud noises or impressive displays of power, but in the quiet that comes from being alone.

Actions and reflections

For my experience with this pathway I tried a few different things. First, I tried to implement the strictness of asceticism by giving myself a few rules to follow for a week: a bedtime (to not be wasting my evening hours) and abstaining from dessert (to give myself something to fast from). Both proved to be difficult to stick with for a week, but were actually good for me. I also carved out a few different times to be alone with God–not easy as I was living with 9 other people at the time. Evenings were out as that was when everyone was awake and active, so I spent some of my mornings quietly contemplating. This was not the best as quiet stillness in the mornings tended to make me sleepy. I did at that time discover the solitude of the swimming pool, which I have found to be a great place to spend with God.

I did enjoy the ascetic pathway and I’m glad I discovered that my time swimming can be a time of connecting with God. I plan to continue this practice. However, I don’t think this is my main spiritual pathway.

What do you think? Have you ever tried to be alone and silent with God? How did it go?