The Desert Fathers and Mothers
Summary: Sunday, May 3-Friday, May 8, 2015
Your state is your inner aliveness. Your stage is your outer awareness. The goal is to be both—holy and whole, saintly and wise. (Sunday)
The desert tradition offers a rich teaching of surrender, through contemplation, to the wonderful and always too-much mystery of God. (Monday)
Solitude is a courageous encounter with our naked, most raw and real self, in the presence of pure love. (Tuesday)
“[These] ancients taught that prayer was participation in God’s love, the activity that takes us out of ourselves, away from the familiar, and conforms us to the path of Christ.” –Diana Butler Bass (Wednesday)
In the tradition of Moses and Jesus, the Christians who wandered into the desert entered a wild, fierce, unknown place where they would encounter both “demons” and “angels” (Mark 1:13)—their own shadowy selves which contained both good and evil, both gold and lead. (Thursday)
The truth of our identity, wrapped up in God, gives us a deep sense of radical okayness and yet humility about our fragility. (Friday)
Practice: The Sacred Heart
Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to say what is in your heart.” Many of the desert fathers and mothers, as well as the Philokalia in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, have described prayer as bringing your thinking down into your heart. It always seemed like soft piety to me until someone taught me how to do it, and I learned the immense benefits of the prayer of the heart. As a Catholic, I was often puzzled by the continued return to heart imagery, such as Jesus pointing to his “Sacred Heart” and Mary pointing to her “Immaculate Heart.” I often wonder what people actually do with these images. Are they mere sentiment? Are they objects of worship or objects of transformation? You must return their gaze and invitation for a long time to get the transformative message and healing. Such images keep recurring only because they are speaking something important from the unconscious, maybe even something necessary for the soul’s emergence.
Love lives and thrives in the heart space. It has kept me from wanting to hurt people who have hurt me. It keeps me every day from obsessive, repetitive, or compulsive head games. It can make the difference between being happy and being miserable and negative. Could this be what we are really doing when we say we are praying for someone? Yes, we are holding them in our heart space. Do this in an almost physical sense, and you will see how calmly and quickly it works.
Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space. Dualistic commentaries are lodged in your head; but in your heart, you can surround this negative thought with silence. There it is surrounded with blood, which will often feel warm like coals. In this place, it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic. You are in a place that does not create or feed on contraries but is the natural organ of life, embodiment, and love. Now the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart have been transferred to you. They are pointing for you to join them there. The “sacred heart” is then your heart too.
Gateway to Silence:
Lead me into the wilderness of silence and simplicity.
Adapted from Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, Appendix D
For Further Study:
I have not said or written a great deal about the Desert Fathers and Mothers; however, many other excellent teachers have done so. You may wish to explore one or more of the following:
The Word in the Desert by Douglas Burton-Christie (heavier theology)
A People’s History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass
The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a contemporary translation, by Henry Carrigan
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality by Belden Lane Listen to the Desert by Gregory Mayers
The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton (more prophetic slant)
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (more psychological)
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward