Anthony was the pioneer of the desert monastics. He was raised in a wealthy home full of opportunity. But Anthony could care less about his premier education, nice home or the luxurious kinds of food his parents offered him. When he was about 20 years old, his parents died--leaving him to care for a little sister and a big home. Six months later, Anthony went to church and he heard someone read, "go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor..." Immediately, Anthony left the church and he gave everything he had to the townspeople. Thinking he couldn't raise his sister, he left her in the care of some local nuns.
Anthony moved to the edge of his village and worked a manual labor job. There, he met people who were going off into the desert wilderness alone. Anthony knew that this is what he must do. He was having some issues with anger and greed. So, he went into the wilderness and lived in solitude for 20 years. Anthony struggled there in the wilderness. He was alone to face himself and God in the solitude, in the silence, of the wilderness. After those 20 years in the wilderness, Anthony was a different man. There was a peace about him. Nothing affected him the same way. He didn't want things so bad anymore and he didn't get so mad either.
Have you ever been alone in the woods? I mean out there-away from the noise of busy roads, away people and all the sounds we create. Maybe you've been on a trail far in the woods. Whoever said the silence is deafening was right. That kind of quiet really hits you. It is so quiet that you just have to face yourself--and God. God met Elijah in the sheer silence of the wilderness. God met Anthony in the sound of sheer silence.
A lot of people were attracted to Anthony--the peaceful and wise man he was. It was said that a philosopher came to Anthony and asked him, "how can you be enthusiastic when the comfort of books has been taken away from you in the desert wilderness?" Anthony replied, "My book, O Philosopher, is the nature of created things, and whenever I want to read the Word of God, it is usually right in front of me." For Anthony, the tough questions of life, the tough questions the Bible raises, require solace.
It's not that the wilderness is the only place we meet God. We meet God in cities, suburbs, big crowds, crowded classrooms, busy streets, tight schedules, and cluttered homes. But the story of Anthony reminds us that we've created a lot of distractions for ourselves. We fill our homes with books, toys, TVs, gadgets and gizmos to insure we're never bored. And after a day at school where someone was mean, after a day at work when a co-worker said something terribly mean, or after a day of stress and anxiety we come home to all our distractions--sometimes it's really hard to meet God there.That is why a walk in the woods is good for the soul. It's why a bike ride on the B&A trail clears the mind. It's why a swift run off the paved paths is purging. It's why sitting on a bench watching the birds is soothing. Because we have filled our lives with attachments and distractions. All of us--me and you--have made such noisy environments for ourselves. So, it is good to see an environment not of our own making. When all of the created noise quiets in the woods, or whatever the wilderness means to you, you just might meet God there.