Into the Desert with Mary of Egypt

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Borrowing a line from the Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
My children fidgeted and rolled around the living room rug.  A small, cracked laptop screen was a window into their beloved church, but it didn’t make it believable, livable; they were not awed by such a small window.  When they lay on their backs they didn’t see prophets overhead, nor the Pantocrator, wide across the dome.  They are used to the embodied faith, touching all the senses, and though we lit candles and burned incense, though we tried, we could only attain a small reflection of a great Light.  We unashamedly need our church family, our clergy, our holy place with all of it’s helps to tie our heart to Him.
I have always had a great love for funerals.  There, for a span of time, all trivialities, all rancor, all distraction is set aside and quieted.  We open our eyes to see clearly, what matters, what doesn’t.  Each body we tuck lovingly into the earth plants also a seed in our hearts; “Remember your death. What will you do with your life?”  During trials we see more, and we are seen more.  Our souls are revealed; our insecurities, our egos, our fear, our courage, our long-suffering.   When it began I saw the extraordinary love and selflessness, people reaching out to one another.  As the weeks passed I was reminded of the Israelites who had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and now were pining and complaining in the desert, ready for revolt.
My dear saint, Mary of Egypt, knew the desert well.  She could not commune, not stand in the company of others, not sing the Divine Liturgy.  But she could pray, she could wrestle with temptation, she could be tested by the harsh environment and the deprivations that constantly reminded her of what she once had and could easily return to.  Mary of Egypt, pray for us, that we might fight the good fight in circumstances that stretch and test us.

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