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The Desert Mystics
The Desert Mystics

Bringing Forth New Life

Thursday, March 2, 2023

If you find yourself in a monastery do not go to another place, for that will harm you a great deal. Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was sitting on prevents them from hatching, so the monk or the nun grows cold and their faith dies, when they go from one place to another. —Amma Syncletica, Life of Blessed Syncletica  

Episcopal priest and writer Mary Earle finds inspiration for spiritual practice in the sayings of a Desert Mother known as Syncletica of Alexandria:  

Amma Syncletica is counseling us to not run from ourselves. She is encouraging us to stay faithfully with whatever new life is being hatched within us…. 

She is addressing a universal human temptation—to miss our lives by living completely on the surface. After all, our culture encourages competition and ambition, and we are highly mobile. If we are not careful, that mobility can create a kind of rootlessness that will injure us and those with whom we live and move and have our being. This is the kind of rootlessness that is internal, that is caused by our not staying with anything long enough to grow deep roots…. 

In the desert, men and women were counseled, “Go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” [1] … The cell was a sacred space, a place in which a woman could be with herself and the divine Presence and listen. The cell was a place of divine encounter and of ongoing, daily experience of being immersed in God’s presence. 

The wisdom of the desert tempers our instinct to avoid boredom and discomfort:  

Amma Syncletica’s [bird] metaphor speaks directly to one of the dilemmas of the spiritual life—that of coming to terms with the plain old ordinariness of spiritual practice and the life of prayer, of the whole of life becoming prayer…. We are enticed by a variety of means to leave our “eggs” and simply move continually from one interest to another. The result is that we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to bring forth new life. The “eggs” die because they are not tended. We miss the deeper life of the Spirit because we are constantly moving from one interest to another rather than focusing on one thing.  

Our ancient mothers knew that when boredom threatened, it could very well be the outward and visible sign of God’s secret, hidden, inner work within the human heart and soul. Consequently, they emphasized staying in the cell, in the little room of daily living, and letting that cell be their teacher…. 

Staying in the cell, or “sitting on the eggs,” means noticing our appetite for overstimulation. The cell teaches us to slow down, …. to notice what is right in front of us. The wisdom the desert mothers offer us is that by staying with ourselves, with our inner ups and downs, with our hurts and our fears, we will bring forth the new life that God is creating within us.  


[1] Moses of Scetis, in The Desert Christian: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 139. 

Mary C. Earle, The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2007), 21–23. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2, used with permission. Les Argonauts, Camino de Santiago, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image

In the midst of thorns, the mystic watches, waits and receives. 

Story from Our Community:

On the wall of my bedroom, I have a piece of cardboard covered with quotes, sayings and prayers from mystics, poets and philosophers including Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Dr. Barbara Holmes, Howard Thurman, James Finley, John Duns Scotus among many others. Many of them, I have discovered through CAC, Fr. Richard, and the Daily Meditations. I read a few of them each day. I do practice contemplation and meditation, but I haven’t yet experienced the flash of insight or revelation of the spirit like these holy ones describe. Despite that, I persevere, listening for the small voice of God in the stillness and the dark. —Mark M. 

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