Part VI: Alone

“Do not cut loose from your longings – for what are we without longings.” 
Amos Oz

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Morning Coffee with Barry Stebbing

Part VI:  Alone

St. Anthony  Artist Unknown

Facing a world-wide audience Billy Graham once said, “Many of you are going to die alone.”  It was a short statement that most likely flew by the heads of most.  Many years ago there was a hit song, You’ve Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley. In a way, this compliments what Billy Graham said.  The  paradox is, as we grow closer God, we spiritually begin to drift from the things of this world. Then, in some inexplicable way, even in the depths of solitude, we can experience an inexpressible comfort and even joy.   It is one of the mysteries that Paul speaks about time and again in the New Testament.       

St. Anthony of the Desert is a prime example of this enigma – solitude and God.  Anthony lived a life of luxury and comfort in Egypt during the 4th century.  Dedicating his life to Christ as a young man, his parents would die and leave him with a vast inheritance.  He decided to give it all away, and then sojourned to the desert where he would spend the next twenty years in an abandoned Roman fort.  Anthony’s desire was to draw closer to God.  The local villagers would leave him food at the gate, but never saw him.  Throughout the years of this intense solitude, he not only overcame any sense of loneliness, but experienced a great spiritual awakening.  When he finally departed from the abandoned fort, the villagers were astonished to see he was in excellent health.   St. Anthony came to be known as “The Father of  Monasteries”.    

During this present time the pandemic is taking its toll, causing much suffering and intense isolation. However, having a constructive purpose through these countless days can be a great asset.  Being an artist and writer for many years, I have come to cherish solitude.  While living in isolation on Walden’s Pond, Thoreau once stated, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.  To be in company, even the best, soon becomes wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone.”Leonardo da Vinci would add to this with his own creative sentiments, “When I am alone the world is mine, when there is another, it is only half mine.”   

Grace –  photograph by Eric Enstrom 1918

Taking a journey with your mind can also become an exciting adventure.   Living on a farm has afforded me the luxury of a quiet life of peace, simplicity and an opportunity to commune with God.  Most assuredly I am not St. Anthony, however I would like to consider myself a contemplative, gazing upon the stars and considering the rich treasures God bestows those who love Him.  Friar McNamara said, “We need to do some deep thinking, good reading, real meditating – and for this we need copious supplies of silence, solitude, and mental prayer, as well as a continuous effort to live as consciously as possible in the presence of God.”  Good advice for anyone who finds themselves in solitude.   

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“A life without purpose is a languid, drifting thing.  Every day we ought to renew our purpose, saying to ourselves:  This day let me make a sound beginning.”                         Thomas Kempis                                    

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Art History Tid-Bits:  The image of St. Anthony (top) was done during the Byzantine Era.  It was a period that lasted throughout the Middle Ages though Byzantine art is still embraced by the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches.  Byzantine art focuses mainly on Christian figures, the style is flat, with no emotions on the elongated faces and bejeweled in color.  

Grace (above) is a photograph by a Swedish photographer, Eric Enstrom.  It was taken in Minnesota in 1913.

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Coffee Memo:   I find the greatest coffee connoisseurs enjoy it best in solitude.  It is the finest of company and desires one’s undivided attention.  Coffee is a best friend and, like your dog, it doesn’t need to speak.

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