In the early days of Christianity, life was difficult for those who claimed to worship Jesus
Christ. They were harshly persecuted by the Romans and others who disagreed with them. It was during this time, in 270 A.D., that a man named Anthony heard a sermon that inspired him to sell his worldly goods, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Christ (Matthew 19: 21). He wanted to draw close to God, so he left and set out to live in the desert. During this ‘desert period’, which lasted perhaps twenty years, Anthony was a hermit and suffered many temptations. He was also given a gift to heal others. Thus, his reputation grew and people began to seek him out for healing and counsel.
Around this time, Christianity was changing. Roman persecution of the church ended in 303 A.D. and not more than 10 years later, the emperor Constantine ended all persecution toward any religion by declaring freedom of worship. As a result, life for Christians became comfortable for the first time. So much so that some feared that they may deny Christ because they were too comfortable. To guard against this, they sold what they had, gave to the poor, and moved to the desert to take part in what is called the ascetic life and what would become monasticism.
The ascetic life was difficult. Devoted to prayer and drawing closer to God, the ascetics denied themselves of anything that would make them comfortable – sleep, fancy foods (and sometimes food in general), family, friendships and material goods. They lived a very simple life. These men and some women gathered together in communities and became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
Because of the influx of so many, Anthony opened two monasteries. To support themselves, the monks made baskets. Athanasius, who wrote a biography of Anthony’s life, said this about Anthony’s introduction into the trade that would fund the monasteries:
“According to Athanasius, Saint Anthony heard a voice telling him ‘Go out and see.’ He went out and saw an angel who wore a girdle with a cross … and on his head was a head cover … He was sitting while braiding palm leaves, then he stood up to pray, and again he sat to weave. A voice came to him saying, ‘Anthony, do this and you will rest.’ Henceforth, he started to wear this tunic that he saw, and began to weave palm leaves, and never was bored again.”*
The last statement, “never was bored again” jumped out at me. As a hermit, Anthony did suffer from boredom; in fact, boredom was one of the many temptations with which the devil used to torture him when he first lived in the desert. Boredom can be an awful state since it is borne out of frustration and a life that lacks purpose. It can also cause people to do wrong things – ever hear the statement “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? Yet, boredom can also stimulate us on to greater creativity if we let it.**
Basket making or weaving seemed to be the antidote to Anthony’s problem with boredom. It gave him a means to support himself and his people. It supported him so that he could spend his life praying – the very reason he had moved to the desert.
Nowadays, many people use the fiber arts to help support them as they do other things that are important. For example, opening a fiber arts business can be a means of helping a mother stay home to raise her children. I sell yarn and hand made goods so that I can support myself later on in life, but I have never thought of it as a means of support so that I could live a life devoted to God. That’s pretty awesome.
One thing that I have also noticed about the fiber arts is that they can yield simplicity if we let them. By making our own clothing, household decor, goods and even gifts, we learn not to depend on outside sources so much. We may not have as much as others because making things takes longer than going to a store and buying ready made, but what we have is good quality and will last. By learning new techniques and teaching others, we are certainly not bored and the quality of our work is fulfilling. The time we spend making can be devoted to prayer. Maybe this fiber arts lifestyle is a God thing after all.
What do you think?