A “Best Spiritual Book of the Year.”
Spirituality & Practice

Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings—Annotated & Explained

Be inspired by the writings of ordinary Christians who chose to renounce the world in order to individually follow God's call. Insightful commentary and historical background illustrates how you can use this wisdom in your own spiritual quest.

Annotation by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD

5½ x 8½, 192 pp | 978-1-59473-373-4

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Timeless and contemplative sayings from the earliest Christian sages of desert spirituality can be a companion on your own spiritual journey.

The desert fathers and mothers were ordinary Christians living in solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Arabia who chose to renounce the world in order to deliberately and individually follow God’s call. They embraced lives of celibacy, labor, fasting, prayer and poverty, believing that denouncing material goods and practicing stoic self-discipline would lead to unity with the Divine. Their spiritual practice formed the basis of Western monasticism and greatly influenced both Western and Eastern Christianity.

Their writings, first recorded in the fourth century, consist of spiritual advice, parables and anecdotes emphasizing the primacy of love and the purity of heart. Focusing on key themes of charity, fortitude, lust, patience, prayer and self-control, the Sayings influenced the rule of St. Benedict and have inspired centuries of opera, poetry and art.

This probing and personal SkyLight Illuminations edition opens up their wisdom for readers with no previous knowledge of Western monasticism and early Christianity. It provides insightful yet unobtrusive commentary that describes historical background, explains the practice of asceticism and illustrates how you can use their wisdom to energize your spiritual quest.

“Provides not only a wonderful introduction to a fascinating world (the opening chapter alone is worth the price of the book), but an invitation to seek our own 'word' from the abbas and ammas of Christian antiquity.... Offers one of the best guidebooks I’ve seen for those who’ve been called to the contemplative life.”

Paula Huston, author, The Holy Way and Simplifying the Soul

“Offers the reader a good drink from the clear stream of desert wisdom. She honors the tradition while making it entirely relevant to our times.”

Mary C. Earle, writer and Episcopal priest; author, The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness and Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Writings—Annotated and Explained

“A splendid introduction to one of the most essential periods of the Western contemplative tradition.... Offers insight into the austere and wondrous spirituality of the desert ... and why their pithy teachings remain so essential for the study and practice of Christian spirituality today. [The] commentary makes the wisdom of the desert come alive.”

Carl McColman, author, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call

Introduction ix

Give Me a Word 3
Your Cell Will Teach You Everything 7
Heart-Centered Spirituality 27
Thoughts, Desires, and Passions 37
Humility, Simplicity, and the Beginner's Heart 57
Spiritual Elders and Soul Friends 85
Tears of Compunction 93
The Necessity of Practice 101
Virtues, Charity, and the Service of Love 111
Solitude, Silence, and Hesychia 119
Three Essential Things 125
Prayer and Differing Gifts 129
Conclusion: How to Become a Monk 137

Notes 144
Suggestions for Further Reading 146