Poustinia

A little over a week ago I was driving on the "Avenue of the Saints." That's what the signs along U.S. Highway 218 said for hundreds of miles. Why? It's the route between St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Louis, Missouri. As I drove I listened to a book on tape--"Poustinia" by Catherine de Hueck Doherty, an author, speaker, Russian emigrant to Canada, friend of Dorothy Day, and foundress of a movement called Madonna House. "Poustinia" is the Russian word for "desert," as in a deserted place to which one goes to pray. In our noisy, busy world we all need a place like this to which we can retreat. And we all need to carry a little bit of the quiet and sense of God's presence back with us into our busy lives.

As I drove and listened I heard something that made me think: "I need to remember what chapter this is from (Chapter 5) so that when I get back home I can look it up in my printed copy of the book." Here's what I heard:

"The world is cold. Someone must be on fire so that people can come and put their cold hands and feet against that fire. If anyone allows this to happen, but especially the poustinikki [desert-dweller, hermit, retreatant], then he will become a fireplace at which men can warm themselves. His rays will go out to the ends of the earth.

"The English word 'zeal' usually means intensity of action. A person is zealous about his farming or some crusade. But real zeal is standing still and letting God be a bonfire in you. It's not very easy to have God's fire within you. Only if you are possessed of true zeal will you be able to contain God's bonfire."


When I heard this passage I immediately thought of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is often pictured as surrounded by flames and which, in the Litany of the Sacred Heart, is called a "Burning Furnace of Charity." According to Luke's Gospel, Jesus said: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" Jesus came to set the world on fire with His love, the love that comes from His Heart, the love that is the Holy Spirit. From time to time we need to draw near to this "Burning Furnace of Charity" to warm ourselves so that we can bring warmth into a hard and cold world.