Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Desert Fathers

Today I read The Desert Fathers. (ok, I started it yesterday)

I have been looking forward to this book for a long time. I have a certain fascination with the monastic life, and the desert fathers take that isolation a step further, living as hermits in the desert. This book contains some historical information that is ok, but the heart of this book is the sayings of the desert fathers. The main portion of the book has these sayings organized by topic. There are some very random things in here, but there is also some great stuff:

…no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on the stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served a trade: for in every condition of human life there are souls that please God and have their hidden deed wherein He takes delight: whence it is plain that it is not so much profession or habit that is pleasing to God as the sincerity and affection of the soul and honesty of deed.


This follows us a story where an old man finds great hearts in people he did not expect. I am always amazed at how much we tie to an occupation, indeed, one of the very first questions we ask someone is "what do you do?"

Another quote stuck out to me:

And he was silent for awhile, and then poured water into a vessel and said, "Look upon the water." And it was murky. And after a little while he said again, "Look now, how clear the water has become." And as they looked into the water they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. And then he said to them, "So is he who abides in the midst of men: because of the turbulence, he sense not his sins: but when he hath been quiet, above all in solitude, then does he recognize his own default."

This is told in the context of encouraging the desert lifestyle, but I think we can learn from this without denying everything and retreating to the desert. In our chaotic lives we do not allow time for reflection. When we are in the car, our radio is on. When we are at home, the tv is on. Our lives are constantly filled with noise and distraction. We desperately need to reflect, and we don't give ourselves the chance. To reflect takes time, like it takes time for murky water to clear. This is the reason behind the tv experiment, which has given me time to read this book…

Then there is this quote:

A certain philosopher questioned the holy Antony. "How," said he, "dost thou content thyself, Father, who art denied the comfort of books?" He answered, "My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, it is at my hand."

In the church we often over look the general revelation of God, that is, how He is revealed through His creation.

And finally, my favorite quote from the entire book:

An old man said, "The prophets wrote book: then after them came our fathers, and wrought much upon them, and again their successors committed them to memory. But then came the generation that now is, and wrote them on papyrus and parchments, and laid them idle in the windows."

'nuff said!

This book is worth picking up. There is great wisdom within.


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