Thursday, February 26, 2009

Desert Spirituality

The Way of the Heart – Part 1

photo courtesy R. Pelisson -

I am currently reading (and contemplating) The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. He was a Dutch Catholic priest who left a lifetime of teaching at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard to live in a community with the mentally handicapped. His writing is so simple and straightforward, but so profound.

The Way of the Heart is a study of the fifth-century Egyptian Desert Fathers and Mothers and how their teachings can be applied today. It is written primarily for people in ministry, but many of the truths can (and should) be applied to my life as well.

The Desert Fathers were living in a difficult time in church history. The persecution of the church had come to an end and there was no longer a literal test of laying down your life for the Lord. The world was still the dark fallen place it had always been, but it no longer set itself as the enemy of the church. Escape to the desert was their way of non conformity to the world.

We, too, must find a response to Paul's challenge to "not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind." (Romans 12:2) What does this look like in our daily lives?

This book centers around the words flee (raising questions of solitude), be silent, and pray. These summarize the spirituality of the desert, the ways we prevent conformity to the world, the ways to live a life in the Spirit.

Come back soon to learn more about the theology of the Desert Fathers. As I read, I will be sharing Nouwen's wisdom and maybe a few of my own thoughts as well.

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