Finding the Foundation

0 comments Posted on March 12, 2019

by Drew Dyck

Around the time I was grappling with my spiritual stuckness, I stumbled upon an intriguing description of a group of ancient Jewish monks. They were called the Therapeuta “because, like doctors, they cure and heal the souls of those who come to them or because of their pure and sincere service and worship of the Divine.”

And pure it was. The monks led lives of extraordinary discipline and devotion. Their lifestyle was austere in the extreme. Think the TV show Survivor, minus the cameras and coups. Renouncing all possessions, they traded city life for caves in the wilderness. They spent their days praying, singing spiritual songs, and meditating on the Hebrew Scriptures. They ate nothing till meal. “They abandon their property without being influenced by any predominant attraction, they flee without even turning their heads back again,” Philo marveled. The third-century church historian Eusebius was so impressed by their devotion, he was convinced they were actually early Christians.

What was the secret to their extreme piety? Philo offered an explanation. “Having first laid down self-control as a foundation for the soul,” he wrote, “they build the other virtues on it.”

The line jumped off the page for me. A foundation for the soul. I found the paradox striking. A foundation is solid, immovable. A soul, by definition, is the opposite—airy and immaterial. Yet there they were, mashed together in one lovely phrase written millennia ago.

I was even more moved by the insight they conveyed. I didn’t aspire to an ascetic life of punishing purity, but I recognized that these ancient monks were onto something. Self-control isn’t just one good character trait, a nice addition to the pantheon of virtues. It’s foundational. Not because it’s more important than other virtues, but because the other rely upon it.

Drew Dyck (M.A. in Theology) is an editor at Moody Publishers and the former managing editor of Leadership Journal. His work has been featured in USA Today, the Huffington Post, Christianity Today, and CNN.com. Drew is the author of Generation Ex-Christian and Yawning at Tigers. He lives with his wife Grace and their three children near Portland, Oregon.

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