Today is John the Baptist’s big moment in the searchlight. Jesus, whom he recognised and baptised as his successor, now publicly recognises him. He testifies to his unique importance as the bridge between the old and the new dispensations, the Law and the Kingdom. There is none of the competitiveness embarrassingly evident between leaders in the worlds of politics, academia, showbiz or business. Perhaps this is because he knows that both of them are destined for catastrophic failure. We rarely compete with someone to be the bigger failure.
For each of them, their wisdom was forged in the experience of the desert. After them would come an army of disciples who would also be desert-dwellers and who described the science of desert practice founded on the art of the prayer of the heart. As all desert dwellers – including all meditators – know, the work is done simultaneously in the body, through the many levels of the mind and with the power of the spirit.
The first stage of this acquisition of wisdom is the shortest: enthusiasm. It gets you started with the first fervour of conversion or romantic attachment (‘I’ve found everything I’ve ever been looking for!’) but then it demands we commit or move on again.
If we choose commitment, which is a narrowing of options that precedes the dilation of the heart, there then comes acedia. Ours is the Age of Acedia so it is hard to recognise and it is easily confused with (or maybe it is a form of) depression. It means literally a lack of care, of concern and accuracy. It makes us sloppy with our work and unable to enjoy the things that usually brought us enjoyment. Its symptoms are too much sleep, overeating, suicidal thoughts, guilt about wasting our time, watching reality TV shows. Its toxic dynamic is resistance to the invitation to love.
After tunnelling through acedia we break through into apatheia, which is the opposite of apathy. It is fully energised health of the soul and powerful equanimity. It unleashes creativity and compassion as free-flowing natural resources. On good days it bestows the spontaneity to celebrate and praise. On bad days it gives us the stability to stay afloat and plough through the waves.
The desert teachers said that agape is the child of apatheia. It is the love of God for us and creates our reciprocal love for God, boundless and terrifyingly, but seductively, unconditional.
When this cycle of the desert experience is repeated sufficiently in chosen ones, it produces the prophets we have been waiting for and, eventually, the one we have all been waiting for since the beginning.