The Desert Fathers and Mothers
Humility and Simplicity
Friday, May 8, 2015
Abba Poemen asked at every moment: “Who am I and who are You?” St. Francis would also spend whole nights praying this same prayer. Baron Von Hugel, in his classic study of mysticism, said this might just be the perfect prayer. It is through encountering the absolute safety of God that we discover our true self, and in finding our truest self, we find a God who is always and forever larger than we expected. The truth of our identity, wrapped up in God, gives us a deep sense of radical okayness and yet humility about our fragility. What a paradox!
Read these sayings and let them stir deeper questions and reflection. This is the power of these simple stories.
One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, “Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?” He replied, “I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.”
Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
Abba Isaiah, when someone asked him what avarice was, replied, “Not to believe that God cares for you, to despair of the promises of God, and to love boasting.”
I hope this brief introduction to the desert fathers and mothers has given you at least a taste of why their simple spirituality is so valuable for us today. If you are drawn to read more of their sayings, don’t be surprised if you are quickly offended by some of their seeming lower stage thinking. But stay with them, in honesty and humbleness, and I’m sure they will teach you something of your own human nature and God’s benevolence. In their irrelevance to our world, the desert fathers and mothers end up being amazingly relevant, precisely because their frame of reference is so utterly different than ours. We all need radically different frames to recognize our own limitations.
Gateway to Silence:
Lead me into the wilderness of silence and simplicity.
 Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications: 1975), 6.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 9.