Sunday, March 18, 2012

Desert Spirituality

(I took this picture of the Negev Desert while in Israel.)
There's a nice little article on on desert spirituality. I was introduced to this in the early 1980s by reading Richard Foster's brilliant Celebration of Discipline. Then I discovered Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's works have influenced me greatly, as have Thomas Merton's. Nouwen's little book The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, is an excellent book to begin with. Read slowly and listen.

I had, as a student in my Personal Transformation class at Palmer Theological Seminary, Father Bishoy El-Antony. Father Bishoy is a Coptic monk from the monastery of St. Antony of the Fourth Century in Egypt. He's a modern desert father, who sometimes sleeps in the desert and spends time praying for days in a cave. He came to class every day dressed up in full Coptic garments. One day I taught a lesson on St Antony of Egypt, the original desert father. After my presentation Father Bishoy told me, "You did a good job. I learned something." He then said, "We would like you to come to Egypt and teach us more about prayer." I responded, "Father Bishoy, I'm not sure that I would have much to teach you about prayer." Father Bishoy said, with a twinkle in his eye, "We are so humble that we can even learn from a person like you."

Any serious follower of Jesus would do well to spend some time immersed in the wisdom-from-God that was dispensed into the hearts of these early Christian desert fathers, who left a culture they viewed as decadent for the sake of finding God in a non-corrupted environment, for the sake of bringing God's truths back into their culture.