Of Harvey and St. Antony

Hurricane Harvey is becoming a memory for some (a persistent financial reality for others), but unlike disasters in the past, we who live in the 20th and 21st centuries have photography to remind us of the destruction. Not sure if that's a positive development; nevertheless, it's a development. Here are some of my own shots from the storm and its aftermath:

These pictures of disruption, of traffic jams, of broken or damaged items serve as reminders of how Harvey wrecked Houston's infrastructure after wrecking Rockport's and then wrought the worst devastation on poor Beaumont. But they also remind us of how susceptible we and our possessions are. When nature turns against us, books and SUV's cannot stand. 

So why do we buy them? A non-ascetic myself, I would argue that books and SUVs are good things and appropriate for spiritual persons to purchase. Not everybody has thought so. St. Antony of Egypt let goods and kindred go to such a severe extent that if a flood had struck Antony's home, it would have wrecked nothing but a sheepskin. Nor would it have damaged the home itself, as his residences varied between tombs and caves. He let his kindred go so thoroughly that he placed his sister in a convent, and it's unclear whether he saw her again. He certainly produced no kindred of his own: no wife, no children, and with a sister in a convent, no nieces or nephews. 

Thus stripped of possessions and relationships, Antony was free to pursue the relationship that mattered most: the one with his Creator God. What follows is a heroic story. Antony eschews worldly comforts and faces demonic attacks on a regular basis, even to the point of having an interview with Satan himself, in which the old sinner says that his kingdom is crumbling thanks to the fighting, praying, desert monks. 

If, as a Christian, I were asked to evaluate Antony's life, I would direct my fellow evaluators immediately to Paul's statement in his letter to Colossae: "Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence." According to this, Antony, for all his harsh discipline of the body, gained nothing in the realm of self-control. 

Yet Harvey's destruction reminds me of another truth: moths and rust destroy our possessions, and if they don't, a flood might. A human must be more than what she owns. If any part of our identity is centered around physical items, that identity will be destroyed. Antony knew that, and so he focused all of his emotional energy on things that are above, not on things that are of the earth. 

Antony and Harvey are bothering me. I don't like reminders of transience. I want teacups and fully-stocked shelves. I search for a good mattress and working AC as a shepherd for a lost sheep. I'm having a hard time letting my goods and kindred go, though the goods of my kindred (or friends, at least) have gone every which way. Perhaps I've forgotten that God's truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever. The trouble is that we can't see the forever kingdom; we can only see that which passes. Our vision has become inverted. Antony, for all his extremism, willed himself to see something beyond his immediate sight. It might be a good idea for me to do the same.