Each Friday through Lent I will be posting about a particular aspect of the practices of fasting and simplicity as seen through the lens of the desert tradition. The posts will include a saying from the desert fathers, a reflection on that saying, suggestions for applying the saying to our lives, and a prayer.
This series of posts was originally written for and included in Practicing Lent 2015, an online program offered by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. This series of posts will include:
- February 27 – How Should One Fast?
- March 6 – Detachment and Simplicity;
- March 13 – Is It Yours?
- March 20 – Detaching From Another’s Scorn or Praise; and
- March 27 – Fasting From Words.
Historically speaking the desert tradition has its origin in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria beginning in the late third century and continuing through the late seventh century. In all its various forms the desert tradition is one the earliest expressions of Christian monasticism.
The desert tradition has been preserved and handed on to us through various collections of sayings. These are not systematic teachings but more akin to wisdom literature. The sayings are usually short, pithy statements or stories and often take the form of an elder giving spiritual counsel, practical advice, to his or her disciple. “Give me a word,” the disciple would say to his or her elder, often referred to as abba (father) or amma (mother).
The elder’s word to the disciple was not, however, ultimately spoken in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. For the desert is not so much a place as it is an experience. It is not outside us but within us. The desert is an interior geography, an empty, barren, and desolate landscape, in which there is no place to hide, through which we confront ourselves, and by which we surrender ourselves to God and learn to become authentic and truly alive human beings.
The elders’ words continue to be spoken in each of our deserts today, reminding us that “if we seek God, he will show himself to us; and if we keep him, he will remain close to us.”1
1. Arsenius 10 in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedict Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 10.