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Desert Fathers and Western Christianity

Posted on October 3rd, 2008

Over time I have become more convinced, not less, of the application of the radical simplicity of the Desert Fathers of the 3rd t0 5th centuries.  They fled to the desert in order to seek God and eventually serve as a life raft for a church that had become almost indistingishable from the world. The church in the West is in a very similar state. The answer begins with us as pastors and leaders of God’s flock, I believe. As Tolstoy once said, “Everybody wants to change the world, but noone thinks of changing himself.” I think he was right. There is only one pathway – the pathway of Jesus.  Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing outlines this as the only way to profound transformation. We repeat it over and over again in our walks with Christ. 1. Name your deaths   (Good Friday) 2. Claim your births    (Easter) 3. Grieve for what you have lost and adjust to the new reality (40 days) 4. Don’t cling to the old. Let old ascend and give you its blessing.  (Ascension) 5. Receive the Holy Spirit for the new God has for you. (Pentecost) The death is to leave what we have been taught about a consumer Christianity that caters to numbers, growth, the “American Dream” and gifts over character. We cannot give what we do not possess. “What profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his/her soul”  (Mk. 8:26ff).  Who has time to even reflect on these things without our own modern “cells” in our own “deserts” we create? The process outlined above requires a life of reflection? Who has time for grieving? Letting go? Letting the old ascend to bless us? Let us battle together to resist the beast outside and inside of us, pulling us downward to a Christianity that is far from Scripture. I leave you with two sayings from the Desert Fathers: Antony said, “Fish die if they stay on dry land, and in the same way  monks who stay outside their cell or remain with secular people fall away from their vow of quiet. As a fish must return to the sea, so must we to our cell, in case by staying outside, we forget to watch inside.” In Scetis a brother went to Moses to ask for advice. He said to him, “Go and sit  in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” What are creative ways we can create deserts (assuming you agree we need them) in our present Western reality?

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