This episode of a BBC documentary about religion and spirituality is one of the most thought-provoking things I've seen in a while. (thanks Jennifer!) It's an hour long, so I put it on full-screen mode (by clicking the icon of the TV in the menu bar) and watched it when I probably should have been doing something else. I just found it so intriguing.

"Why can't the road to God be eating tomato basil soup and getting up and having a lovely day?" asks Anglican vicar Pete Owen Jones before heading out to the isolated caves of the Egyptian desert to spend three weeks as a hermit, near the cave where St. Anthony the Abbot once lived. Only a few days into his stay in the utterly silent cave in the middle of the desert, he discovers spiritual warfare as he's never experienced it before, as well as "the hell of reflection."

His conversations with the priest-hermit who has lived in an isolated cave for years are fascinating, in particular about the often-underestimated importance of prayer. One thing in particular that has stuck with me that the father said, that "one hour of prayer, mindful of God, is worth a lifetime of beneficent service."

I'd love to hear what you think, and what caught your mind.


  1. It's a bit scary to think about the things that would come up during that sort of experience. There are so many distractions around us, so many things fighting for our attention we're completely oblivious of how many issues we put aside and ignore without even realizing it.
    There is a sensory overload of everything physical and a deprivation of everything spiritual in our daily lives. While I feel like a Christian can hardly be expected to maintain a healthy balance in a world so contrary to what we believe, I don't think Christians should ever try to completely remove themselves from the rest of society.
    At the very least though, I think we owe it to God and to ourselves to take time on a regular basis to turn off as many distractions as possible and then to take a deep breath and pray. Not to come to God with a wishlist and leave as soon as it's been recited, but to converse and to listen without focusing on anything else.
    When you start to think about how long most people tend to go without having a proper conversation with God, it's no surprise that the effects can be so strong, this is a conversation with God we're talking about, after all :)

  2. Before watching the video, I thought it might not be such a bad idea to try it. But after the clip ended, my thought for it is just too extreme. This will never be something that I would want to try, nor have anything to do. I know it is good to have challenge and all for your faith and love for God, but I am scared of being alone. Especially for the parts after the first or second day with no one talking to other than pray to God. There is no one physically with you, it is just too difficult to live like that.
    Doing the silent and solitude exersize is a good practice for something like this. We all do need to spend some time on our own with God. There is a time to be silent.
    To love and know that God is good and He is always there for us, and he loves us so much he would not want us to suffer, so he sufferred for us is amazing. So the most important thing is to have time for God!

  3. This practice of complete solitude is the ultimate extreme. Most monks already separate themselves from the world but at least they still live within a community of other monks. Is it even healthy? In considering this question, I thought of two different cases. In one case, you have the average Western man who lives in relative luxury though he might not think it so. He works on weekdays, rests weekends, goes to social events, drives a car, so on and so forth. If he were to suddenly go into complete solitude, isn't that akin to feasting right after one has been starving for the longest time? It's a spiritual experience of the utmost committment and as such it will bring with it great revelations; that is why it is a feast. But one should not jump into it. One can also consider it starting a fast after one has been gorging himself his whole life; in terms of social life. Either way, social or spiritual, it is a major change that shouldn't be made so abruptly, because it would probably be too big of a change to make. Which is where the second case comes in. The case where the transition into this state of solitude has already been made. It seems like for Father Lazarus it is his life. But it seems like the vicar made it through. So the question is not whether or not its healthy, but whether or not I want to take that risk. Is it then a question of whether or not I have a strong enough faith? But is it not a better question of where that faith is put? At first I was scared of this concept, because I didn't want to be attacked by demons day and night. I don't think I could stand against them. Even trusting in God to protect me, I know it won't be pleasant. Was it pleasant for Job, even though God was always there? I just find it hard to put oneself through so much pain to find God. It is the narrow path though. Christ never said that we could have it easy if we followed Him. In fact, we were told to carry our cross and follow Him in a life of pain. Though it would not be my life's vocation, I would like to try it before my life ends. Sometimes I feel like I want the challenge, I want the struggle, because complacency is so common and the only way to grow is to be challenged. I want to confront myself in the "hell of reflection" because I don't think my problems will ever be solved until I do so. Never forever though, for I don't think my calling is to pray solitarily. The vicar has his role to play and so does Father Lazarus. If my gift is to teach, then I shall teach, for if I force myself to be something I am not, I am not edifying the church. Of course, a reminder here and there of other ways to be with God is welcome, especially if it points me back in the right direction.

  4. I was very surprised with the beginning of video. The clips of him in India and China of looking for spiritual enlightenment didn't really match with the extreme solitude that he was going to experience.

    Solitude is so hard. There are always things that we plug ourselves into so that we don't have to experience it. We'll play endless music, hang out with friends, play video games. Anything but be still. Our lives are already so busy that we give ourselves another excuse to not sit down and simply think. Solitude is such a challenge which is why most people would rather avoid it that to face it.

    The sudden change from an urban city into complete solitude than back into an urban setting is the greatest culture shock. I think the Bedwin eased the journey because his society went from millions to a few to one. I think experiencing God is always a shock and this shock never is a bad thing. The road with God was never said to be easy hence we saw how he thinned and looked ill. It wasn't a pleasant experience but a worthy experience. Learning from God, knowing him, and experiencing him means laying down what we love and solitude gives us the chance of putting all those things aside. Yet, the devil still tempts in solitude but there is no temptation we can't overcome. But, since we're communicating with God everything else falls into place.

  5. Watching this I came to a realization that there is absolutely no way I could live a life separated and isolated from civilization. I understand that these solitude practices are important as they contribute to their spirituality. With nothing ahead of them for distraction, they could only focus and truly dedicate their lives for religion. But is it worth being a social cast for? You lose communication with the world, not knowing everyday changes and continue living bound by that imaginary time puddle formed in solitude. So in a way are we just trying to avoid the in's and out's of distractions and instead of overcoming, we become afraid of it. What I'm trying to say is that, it's true that indeed there are many interferences that interrupt us from spending time alone with God, but that doesn't mean that we can't try to "live with the distractions, but at the same time use it as a reminder that , following God isn't so easy"

  6. "I can't imagine a loving Father sending His children to play in a field of snakes"

    When I heard him say that, I remember how much it stood out to me. I thought, why would God put us in a situation that would be harmful and dangerous?
    I remembered and reflected on verses such as James 1:13, and 1 Corinthians 10:13. It is our own flesh that is responsible for temptations, and we are always given a way out of every temptation. Perhaps God uses dangerous circumstances in our lives to test and strengthen our faith. I have to remember that every situation I encounter is one that I am strong enough to endure.

    However, I personally do not think I can endure this kind of solitude and loneliness. The video reminded me how much I am dependent on technology, family, and company. I can't possibly imagine being by myself in that kind of environment for 3 weeks. Despite my introvert personality, 3 weeks without television, music, comfort, or any kind of communication without civilization is simply too much for me.

    Comfort is a state that many, if not all of us take for granted. God has blessed all of us immensely, but we must remember that the blessing of comfort is not permanent on this world. God will put us in situations of solitude, difficulties, and dryness in order to refine our faith and draw us closer to Him.

  7. It was tough to picture myself in the same situation as Peter because especially for North Americans, we have been spoiled by the society. Within a few days most of us would not survive after having any social communication mechanisms (Internet Messaging, Cell Phones)taken from us. What Peter accomplished here was not an easy feat. To me, he showed his yearning to seek the presence of the Lord. Right now I don't know if I can even acomplish a third of what he did, let alone 21 days. It's one thing to live in a different place for a long period of time but its another when you're alone and you have no means of communicating to others. Yet I think that is what most of the Christian society needs nowadays. We are all so caught up in the current trends and top stories on television that we forget to sit down and have a conversation with the Lord. We don't spend enough time with God and although there's no set limit of how long we should spend seeking God each day, I know that I can always spend more time with Him.


  8. After watching this, I was at awe with what Peter accomplished. Not only did he live by himself in a totally new environment, but he also isolated himself from all sorts of communication from the world. In North American society, we are so spoiled and most of us wouldn't be able to survive after being taken off the internet for more than a few days. What Peter did was drastically mind blowing. I would not be able to do a third of what he did, let alone 21 days. I think that this shows how much the Christian community is still being focused too much on the present and too much engaged with the latest stories and gossips of celebrities and what not. We aren't spending enough time with the Lord and although there isn't a time limit on how long we should spend with God each day, I know for a fact that I definitely could spend more time with Him

  9. samara thinks:

    I never really understood how people could live in an environment like that all alone and still grow so much stronger in their faith. Personally I don’t think I would be able to go three weeks on my own in the desert. I feel like the challenges, being alone with my thoughts and the struggle to focus would eventually drive me insane. I think that fellowship and being around other Christians is a large factor in me growing stronger in my faith. Watching this shocked me, I can’t imagine what it would be like giving up everything I own and going off and living in caves for the rest of my life. After living a very materialistic way of life I think that the isolation from people and everything would definitely be a huge struggle for me. I agree with the Vicar Peter Jones as he wonders why the road to God has to involve deprivation, isolation, etc. But I do understand that isolation is needed to grow closer to God, but for me maybe not to that extreme. I especially like and agree with the quote "Why can't the road to God be eating tomato basil soup and getting up and having a lovely day?” Every now and then setting where one can get away from all the distractions and stress of life is important. Sometimes simple is better. And I think if I ever had the chance to do something like this I too would struggle but I hope that after a while I would also find comfort in the silence. But I also think its important for us as Christians to get out there in the real world. We all should isolate ourselves from reality and we are called to go out and make new believers so I think we need to find a balance between isolation and being out in the world.
    Another issue that I found interesting was how the priest who was living in the caves emphasized the importance of prayer. How if he looked at it like if he stopped praying the whole world would stop too. I think that would be a very motivating thing for me thinking that the world was relying on my prayers. I realize the importance of prayer and I know that I need to take more time out of my day to do so. Prayer is a valuable thing and I definitely need to start doing more of it.

  10. I always struggle with the idea of separating yourself from humanity and the world for your whole lifetime, even in a monastery. Separating yourself with any sort of human contact is even more extreme and even more disagreeable with my beliefs. When in the bible does it say to do this? Man is called for a relationship with God and humanity.

    Perhaps their way of loving and impacting the world is through prayer. Although I believe prayer is a powerful/mysterious weapon/tool that we behold to benefit the church and the lost around us, there is also something significantly spiritual in physical interaction and ministry. Prayer should be used (among other reasons as well) as a way to not only communicate with God, but to be filled with the Spirit in order for us to be effective in our physical ministry.

    In a way, i respect their deep desire to be closer to God, be more "Christ like"/"holy", and their courage to give up their life. Yet, I find it selfish to exclude yourself from God's ministry in the world just to be righteous. In fact, it is not Christ-like to cut yourself off from the world. Of course, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert but He went back into the world to continue to His ministry of healing, peaching, and caring for the poor.

    I think that their chase is futile because at the end of the day they may strip themselves of the world but it is certain that they will never escape God, themselves, and the devil. And wherever the devil is lurks the risk of sin.

    One of my life goals before Jesus comes back is to spend a period in a monastery and experience solitude like the man in this movie, yet I will never forsake my calling for the lost for the sake of my own enlightenment. I always ask myself the question, if I don't minister to those around me, who will? If I don't pursue my unique calling from God that only I can fulfill who will?

    Needless to say I have many unanswered questions. Although I am strong in my beliefs and opinions, the one thing that I wonder is, what if God called them for this sort of life? Would God call any one to this sort of life?

  11. First off, I would just like to pay my respect to Pete Owen Jones for having the boldness to embark on such a traverse journey. To go through something of this scale takes a true commitment to Christ in wanting to explore all aspects of his kingdom. I was taken back at the whole notion that staying in such isolation was more a spiritual warfare than divine bliss. I don’t remember fully but I believe that somewhere after the first week he had this unexplainable fear and tremble that I never thought one would have during confined meditation. The external conflict between one’s self shows the cunningness of the devil. As Pete said, “I began to become terribly reflective” and he started the see the veracity in his actions. You could see in his facial expression as being enlightened by the end of the 3 weeks. His whole composure, the way he spoke just changed, it seemed almost as if he had been living like that for years. That sense of peace while at war was undeniably divine, and I feel that there is a special place for this monastic lifestyle. Lazarus believed that his purpose was to stay on top of these cliffs to pray over the world and to just hope that it is enough, and this was his calling. Although Pete didn’t abhor the notion of isolation by the end of the 21 days, his experience cemented his belief in the role that he should play. In conclusion I believe that there is no “right or wrong” way to seek and serve the Lord just the one that better suits you. You must serve on your own volition and not be afraid to expand your boundaries.

  12. Silence and solitude can be a powerful method to reach God, but what Father Lazarus is doing is way beyond that. To be able to abandon almost all material desires and devote your entire life to prayer takes a lot of faith and willpower. In our society, we’ve become so dependent on our friends and internet that I don’t think I would be able to last a week of prayer up there. We’re never really silent or alone when we have access to so many different forms of entertainment.
    When I watched Father Lazarus, I started to think about that argument about faith and action. I know that even with God’s grace, we still have to try, but what’s the line? It seems to me that Father Lazarus seems to be trying to earn his salvation through his own righteousness. In the last few minutes, when Pete and the father are talking, the father says that “the one who stays to the end will be saved,” and that he must stay until the end and also that they are saved through the peace that comes from isolation. It seems almost as if he believes that he will be saved only through self-denial and monastic life. This lifestyle does have its benefits though. It is a comforting thought, knowing that somewhere in the world, someone is praying for you. Especially when we know how powerful, prayer can be. I respect their desire to know God through prayer and isolation, but I don’t think that that is the best way to God. I believe that community is one of the most important aspects of Christianity and that it is almost impossible to have a good and healthy relationship with Jesus without community. Even looking at the life of Jesus, he did go up to the mountain to pray or fast, but he would always come back to the people. In the end though, Father Lazarus instructs Pete to “stay in the desert” in his heart. I feel that this is a more biblical interpretation of the Bible, but if Father Lazarus is truly called to a monastic lifestyle, then who am I to question his lifestyle?

  13. Initially I thought that spending a time of solitude outside in such beauty would be peaceful and a wonderful way to connect with God. However, I realized how difficult it would be considering the devil’s extreme temptations. I found myself respecting him a lot for being able to stay at the cave and remain reliant on God throughout. Honestly, I would find remaining in solitude for over a couple hours is hard! Giving our full attention over to God is relieving for the first hour or so; but after that, my mind tends to fill the spaces with earthly thoughts and worries. We are so engaged in our social networks and our friends that it’s as if our friends are turning into our idols. The video showed me how much more time I need to be spending in quietness with God listening for his small voice.
    I particularly liked Father Lazarus’ reference to the wide gate that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to life. Solitude is a discipline that can help us connect with God and experience him on a deeper level. After watching this video however, I realized that in such a vulnerable state, the devil has an advantage to influence our minds in the silence and lead us astray from God. Like Father Lazarus said, not many people were able to cope with the pressure in the caves.
    Setting apart a few days for solitude is a discipline that I would like to experience. I believe it would be healthy for me to distance myself from all the media surrounding me and focus on the Lord with my whole heart and pray. If everyone were to pray for this world and the society we live in, our lives would be drastically different. We may be filled with love, compassion, and peace. I don’t think I can fully understand the importance and the power of prayer until I firsthand experience it.

  14. Before I watched this video I thought that it would be difficult to last 21 days in isolation but I thought that I could probably do it. After watching this video I’m sure that I could not do it. I don’t think I could even last a week. What Peter did is mind blowing for me. I spend so much time talking or texting other people, I always have something to do or someone to talk to. But Peter went 21 days without any form of communication with the outside world. I find that accomplishment amazing. I think that most Christians have the same problem I do, that we are all too attached to every worldly thing that is going on around us. We are too busy to stop, be still and listen for God. I think that it is partly because we are scared of what we might find in the silence. I think that there are two things we fear: hearing an evil voice that we try so hard to avoid and hearing God’s voice telling us to do something that we are either uncomfortable doing or too lazy to do. I think that we can all learn from Peter and take time in the silence to search for God, maybe not to the extreme he did, but we all need to make time to just listen.