Saturday, 21 June 2014

'They Follow Orders' by Jonathan O'Brien


You are a Roman conscript, a Christian forced to fight in foreign wars but they train you well, teach you discipline and how to follow orders so you survive and return to the Nile, to your home.
            But you can't settle back into your old life, too much has changed, you have changed. There is no order to things. So you head into the wilderness, away from the disorder of town. Your parents are broken hearted. They had waited so long for your return. You don't look back.
            You wander in the desert till you find a teacher, one who walks the path ahead of you. He says his name is Palemon. He is ancient, his skin is old leather and he smells like a dead goat. He lives in a cave. You are so hungry you ask him for help. He takes you in and teaches you how to survive in the desert, how to find water, he teaches you the ascetic discipline, how to find God in everyday things. You follow orders. 
            Time passes and others arrive from the towns, many of them soldiers, looking for guidance, seeking God in the desert. A community begins, a brotherhood. Life is good for a while, you work together. But some men go to extremes, they starve themselves and create strange rituals, they stray into madness. Palemon dies and you worry for your sanity.
            In a dream a voice speaks, 'they need discipline' it says. You do as you are told. You use your army training. You gather the men, and stand before them to tell them your plan.
'An angel spoke to me in a dream and told me what we must do,' you say. You organize the men to build a proper camp, no more caves and holes in the ground.
            You write down the rules and regulations: chastity, poverty, obedience, rules on prayer and diet, fanaticism outlawed, meditation and prayers are to be supervised, monks must learn passages by heart. No more extremists.
            A few men don't like the new rules so they leave, you wish them well and pray for them, but many stay, happy to follow you and find God. You train them up, teach them discipline and how to follow orders, so they survive. Then when the time is right you order them to new places, to share the rules, to start again. They follow orders. 

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