Stay in Your Cell

Something I wrote just about six years ago:

“Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

So says a desert father. Well, more than one. It’s a theme which runs through the deep spiritual writings of the centuries.

Don’t go anywhere. Stay where you are at. Do not distract yourself. Do not engage in things which offer a false sustenance. Engage the soul by shutting off the soul’s propensity for diversion. Do not seek answers elsewhere, for they are within.

The answers are within, coming from the Spirit who is within. This is not self-empowerment, this is self-weakening, self-loosening, self-forgetting.

Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.


Only if you stay in your cell. These monks were not talking about a weekend or a week. They spoke in terms of years and decades. The human soul does not, they knew, need continually more input. It needs to realize itself, the beautiful and the gruesome within, and by recognizing itself it can only then begin to recognize that which is outside of itself.

This lesson hits me again this week, though I think it is something that has been lingering in the back of my consciousness for a fair while. It’s a different lesson of sorts than back in 2005 because I’m in an entirely different kind of cell. Back then, I was living in the mountains, where there was beauty all around. It wasn’t idyllic to be sure as there was also a neighbor who spent just about my entire time up there doing do it yourself home remodeling, taking his apparent frustrations at life out against his vacation home. There was also the fact I was living with my parents at the time. Which while a saving situation for me, no doubt, was also immensely humbling and never quite amenable to the sorts of pure solitude those monks experiences.

Now, I’m married. Now I’m also living in a place neither one of us like. It is concrete everywhere, noise constantly, no view of mountains or vistas, one tree in sight and it right in front of the window of far too nearby neighbors. We’re surrounded on every side by the busyness of seminary people, a particular franticness of zeal, youth, new independence, continued quest for a more secure reality, making it not entirely like living in a dorm, but near enough to the same experience that I’m constantly buffeted by the extroversion of others.

I hated living in a dorm. I still do. I love my present roommate, but would like to have more space around us.

Ever since I was young I feel the presence of others. There’s both a sense quality to this, as when I’m engaged in work I become hyper sensitive to distractions that pop me out of my thinking zone. And I’m enough of a Pentecostal still to know that I’m also very spiritually sensitive. For a Thinker (INTJ) like myself, this sounds weird when I say it to others, but it’s not a matter of feeling. Whenever I take any of those spiritual gift sorters I score high on discernment, I really do feel sensitive to the spiritual realities around me, and when I’m constantly around people I’m constantly on edge with what’s going on.

I think it’s probably best to describe it a bit like a TV antenna. I pick up on all the signals, though I am not always able to tune into something clearly. And when there are a lot of signals, I feel a lot of static in my life.

Which is a gift to offer the church, but it’s also something, I know, that needs a break. That’s why I so value getting space from people, so that I’m away from the signals for just a little while, and in doing that its helps be find focus so that I can contribute to people when I’m more actively engaged.

But here? Here in Pasadena I don’t have that option. I never wanted to move back here. There’s frenzy and chaos all around, even as I know the people around me here really are good people who, for the most part, are genuinely seeking God. It’s not them, I know, it’s me.

Though, I do have to say it’s also sometimes them. Noise is a way of exclaiming meaning to the world, and those not long out of college tend to want to really find their meaning. So, there’s not really a value of silence.

Oh, to have a monastic complex here at Fuller, where silence was taken seriously as a spiritual boon.

But that’s not what Fuller cares about. We are told to put up with the noise of others, to feel bad when we feel frustrated, to let their barbaric yawps be sounded without complaint.

This is the cell I live in now. This is, I know, where God has me.

So, I can let it get to me, right and orderly frustration at being constantly bombarded by the antics of others. Or I can somehow draw close to that which I wrote in 2005. If I stay here, I can learn everything.

That goes against all the frustration I feel this week. How can I learn when there is constantly someone or something intruding themselves into my space?

Clearly I’ve not learned everything. And I’m here until probably at the very least next June; with both of us working on campus this year it is replacing one set of frustrations with others for us to find another place.

The frenzy is in my own soul now too. I’ve nurtured it and encouraged it, letting my yearning for my ideal learning place undermine the learning in this place. Certainly there are real reasons it has happened, but there are also reasons that are inside me that I’ve given excuses for.

It’s a species of acedia, I now realize, that oft forgotten sin that I’m particularly susceptible to.

The ancient monastics talk alot about that too. I have some texts right over there, on the bookshelf behind my desk.

Maybe I need to get back to reading those, to see again what this cell has to teach me. What God has to teach me by having me here in this place I do not like. Maybe it is a teaching that helps me become someone that God likes more, becoming more in tune with him so that I can live more in tune with this world.

That sounds like everything to me.

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