Lent with the Desert Fathers: Fasting From Words

Abba Macarius, Desert Fathers, Desert Spirituality, Lent, Practicing Lent 2015, Spiritual Formation, Silence

A Word from the Desert

Abba Macarius the Great said to the brothers at Scetis, when he dismissed the assembly, ‘Flee, my brothers.’ One of the old men asked him, ‘Where could we flee to beyond the desert?’ He put his finger on his lips and said, ‘Flee that,’ and he went into his cell, shut the door and sat down.”1


Abba Macarius, Desert Fathers, Desert Spirituality, Lent, Practicing Lent 2015, Spiritual FormationAbba Macarius shushed the brothers. “He put his finger on his lips and said, ‘Flee that.’” Sometimes we need to be shushed. The world is noisy, our lives are noisy, we are noisy. We need to be reminded of and sent to the silence “beyond the desert.”

The old man who asked the question is looking at the world around him. Abba Macarius knows that real silence is more about what is happening within the old man than what is happening around the old man. It is not simply the cessation of talking or the absence sound.

True silence is about engagement not escape, fullness not emptiness, presence not absence. “For God alone my soul in silence waits,” the psalmist tells us (Psalm 62:1, 6).

Silence invites us to repent from the need to justify, explain, and defend; from the need to be recognized, heard, and approved of; from the need to be accomplished, efficient, and productive. The practice of silence is an act of self-offering, showing up, and making oneself available to God. Silence creates space and place for God to show up. It allows us to listen with our heart rather than our ears. It is the threshold upon which we meet God. Deep interior silence lets us rest in God. Nothing needs to be said. Nothing needs to be done. All is well.

For Consideration and Practice

  • Recall a time of intimacy with another in which there was nothing that could or needed to be said and to have said anything would have destroyed the moment and broken the intimacy. Now recall a time when you were not talking, there was no noise or distractions, and the world around you was quiet, but within you were chattering voices, a stream of thoughts, and various images arising. These experiences will give you some idea of what Abba Macarius meant when “he put his finger on his lips and said, ‘Flee that.’”
  • Do you sometimes play music or turn on the television just to have some company? If you are home is the television on? Is the radio always playing in your car? Are you always on the computer or phone? Let off rather than on become the default position. Become more selective about when, how much, and the kind of outside sound you bring into your life. Drive in silence. Limit your music and television. Speak only when your words are profitable.
  • Establish an intentional and regular practice of silence. Sit in the same chair, at the same time, for a specified period of time. No talking, reading, or thinking. Thoughts and images will arise. That’s normal and to be expected. Let them go, return to the silence.


O God, the creator and sustainer of life, from your silence you spoke your creative word, “Let there be,” and brought forth life. Let me flee to that silent place where I may be still and know that you are God. Amen.

Other Posts in this Series

February 22 – A Series on Fasting and Simplicity
February 27 – How Should One Fast?
March 6 – Detachment and Simplicity
March 13 – Is It Yours?
March 20 – Detaching From Another’s Scorn or Praise
March 27 – Fasting From Words


1. Macarius 16 in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedict Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 131.


      1. I got so inspired by this post of yours and I wrote some on my musings around it. I have also quoted you. If you don´t mind, in case you want and find meaningful to read this short post, I would like to ask you to read T´s rather intriguing comment.


        1. Julien, thanks for continuing the discussion on your blog. I will take a look at the post and T’s comment. I apologize for being slow in responding. My time and attention have been with Holy Week. I am always glad to hear from you.

          Peace be with you,


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