Written by Andrew Dyck
In March 2020, during the first pandemic lockdown, I found myself teaching from home (on Zoom), and feeling alone, adrift, and angry. A week or two later, I had a conversation with my seminary colleagues. It was my first conversation about the pandemic in the light of scripture and theology. That conversation renewed my hope; my co-workers reminded me that the core of Christian faithfulness was unchanged by the pandemic. Jesus was still calling us to care for the least, work as slaves of Christ, support those in our households, and so on. These constants were a gift I needed.
Another constant was the calling to remain in a conversational relationship with God. Over the next five months, during which I spent many hours working from a basement spare room, I more frequently took time to close the door, quiet my soul, and listen for God. (Those experiences remind me of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6:5-6.)
This experience also gave meaning to a sentence I’d read often, and usually found puzzling and intriguing. A little more than 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, a violent bandit named Moses had a radical conversion to Christ. An African, Moses became a prophetic spiritual leader for a group of men in Egypt who devoted themselves to serving Christ through prayer and self-denial (i.e. one of the early monastic communities). Abba Moses once said, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Not only was my little room becoming that kind of cell, but I was also beginning to pause at other times and places to quiet myself and turn my attention to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Since then, I’ve been back at CMU, teaching classes in person (with masks and physical distancing) and Zoom. I still try to carve out space for noticing God (helped along the way by visits with my spiritual director). However, in the activities of daily life—amplified by uncertainties in politics, work, family, and the latest pandemic restrictions—I’ve found it harder to carve out a cell of attentiveness to God.
Today, I’m praying that the words of the song “There is a quiet place” (by Ralph Carmichael) will become more constant in my life, so that I will live out of the cell where God speaks. I invite you to join me by listening to Take 6 sing that song, and then being quiet with God for a few minutes. I wonder how your cell and mine might teach us.
P.S. For another angle on Abba Moses’ sentence about the cell, check out this article by a contemporary Canadian.