The Poustinia That Wasn’t – Or Was It?

Cheryl Ann Smith

This was to have been the poustinia*the one I’ve been building up to for a while. The one in which I would confront the big questions.

I’m entering the last third of my life (as far as I can tell) and I’ve suffered periodic unease: What about my early conviction that I was called to be a saint? What about the seeming lack of focus and intensity in my prayer life now? What about certain weaknesses and sins that still plague me after all these years?

It was time to stop avoiding the questions. This poustinia was the perfect time to stand before God and hear the truth.

It is supposedly the height of summer in North Yorkshire right now, but we’ve hardly seen the sun, and we certainly haven’t experienced real warmth yet. So when I awoke in the poustinia to a bit of both, I decided I just had to sit out in the garden.

I was a little distracted, I admit, as I rolled my sleeves up and down as the sun regularly hid behind the bank of clouds . . . and as I periodically gave up and retreated to the poustinia—only to be lured out again by the sun’s promises to reform.

The other garden denizens were distracting too, especially the little bunny who’s lived with us for weeks now. Sometimes I wonder if he was someone’s pet, as he’s so different from the muscular hares that bound through the neighbouring field.

He’s round and cute (except when he helps himself in our vegetable garden), and he seemed a little lonely as he poked around all corners of our enormous yard before settling down close to me.

While he snoozed in the shade of a tree near my chair, a mother robin was darting here and there, feeding her little one and taking time out for a few bars of song. Finally she perched on a little branch just inches from the rabbit, who had awakened and was surveying his kingdom. They seemed to commune for a little bit, and then off flew the robin.

And what a glorious kingdom, a feast for the senses: the rich green carpet of our lawn, the explosion of colors in our Mary Garden, the soft texture of the budding purple wild flowers beside me. Occasionally a hint of perfume wafted from one of the flowers, along with a tang from freshly cut grass next door.

By this point, I’d spent half the day distracted by birds, bunnies and flowers, so I resolutely closed by eyes to focus on the big questions.

Without the visual stimuli, sounds began to break through: the gurgling splash of the brook that borders our property: the chirping, trilling, squawking of all kinds of birds in the woods by the brook; the scampering and scolding of squirrels; the laughter of a child in the trailer park up the hill; the constant cooing of the pigeons.

Even though I couldn’t see the source of any of these sounds, they filled the air with beauty and joy.

Joy! This was supposed to be my opportunity to enter my heart and confront fears, failures, and the need for repentance and conversion. I had the space, the time for tears to flow, and instead, I was filled with joy and contentment. What happened to the poustinia?

As I neared the end of the day having answered none of the big questions, I pondered what I had heard.

Here it is: God is infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, so far beyond me. And yet, he is also simplicity. He is love. He loves me as I am. He fills the world with his beauty, delight, creative energy.

I am the one who is complicated. I have dreams, plans, ideals, expectations which may or may not be from God.

What is from God is a call to rest in our mutual love; to feast my eyes and ears on all the manifestations of his beauty and life; to keep my eyes off myself and firmly fixed on his mercy and goodness.

He leads me as surely as a shepherd leads his lamb, without need of my analyses, judgments, criticisms—just my trust and love.

So I left this poustinia refreshed in spirit, but with no answers. Or was the answer quite simply God?

*A particular kind of 24 hours of solitary prayer and fasting