We move into Book Ten of The Desert Fathers, which is the longest book (chapter) of all. It is entitled, “Discretion.”
The book begins with this saying, Anthony said, “Some wear out their bodies by fasting; but because they have no discretion this only puts them farther away from God.”
Spiritual formation and common sense always go together. But it’s surprising how many times over the years I have seen spirituality interpreted (and sometimes acted out) as something that must abandon rationality in order to be valid. These definitions would connect the spiritual life with some form of extremism.
Using the same discipline that Anthony mentioned, I’ve known diabetics who were counseled to “fast” from their insulin, or to go without the kind of nourishment (e.g. orange juice) that keeps their blood sugar at the proper level. Instead of getting into God, they went into diabetic comas.
It’s amazing, and sometimes tragic, that “the spiritual life” is only deemed valid when it is excessive. This probably accounts for why some devout Christians have to deal with physical health issues, stress-related illnesses, and even emotional/mental problems.
The fact is, the saints were ordinary people. Their hearts may have been in heaven, but their feet were on the ground. Their minds were the mediating point between the two. Discretion was the means for turning inspiration into action.
Yes, you can find Christians who practiced their faith with extreme devotion. Some were looked upon as heroes; others were viewed as weirdos. And today, there are times when something more is called for. But when it comes to establishing the pattern for our spiritual formation, discretion is a guiding principle.
Long ago, the psalmist wrote that God “remembers we are dust” (103:14). We’re the ones who forget, and our forgetfulness erodes rather than builds our spiritual life.
The word “normal” and the word “spiritual” can be used in the same sentence.