January 2008
Billie Silvey
The desert is a hard place.  It’s hard to find food there.  You
don’t carry a lot of belongings with you.

After Jesus was baptized, Satan led him into the desert to tempt him.
(This Christmas I received a fictional
account of the story from a
totally different perspective ).  During his ministry, he went away on
his own to pray and encouraged his disciples to do the same.  Paul,
after his conversion, went away to Arabia.

In the third century, a group of Christian hermits, ascetics and monks
sought to follow their example by renouncing the world and moving
into the Egyptian desert.  At first, they did it to flee Roman
persecution.  Then they did it because they were attracted by the
solitude and felt they could better learn self-discipline and follow God
single-mindedly there.  In the fourth century, they introduced
common prayers and meals, which developed into monasticism.

They were known as the Desert Fathers, and their writings and
spirituality still have influence.  Here is a sample of their writings:

“In the matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and
work better than idleness, especially since wealth becomes an
obstacle even for those who do not devote themselves to it.  Yet,
when we must put aside our wrath, quench our envy, soften our
anger, offer our prayers, and show a disposition which is reasonable,
mild, kindly, and loving, how could poverty stand in our way.  For
we accomplish these things not by spending money but by making
the correct choice.  Almsgiving above all else requires money, but
even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from
our poverty.  The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than
any human, but she outdid them all.�
--St. John Chrysostom

“I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I
said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then
heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’�
--St. Anthony the Great

“I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to
gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat.  I
shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received
from the Holy Fathers.  They have not given us only a single rule for
fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not
everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body
create differences.  But they have given us all a single goal:  to avoid
overeating and the filling of our bellies. . . .  A clear rule for self-
control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still
hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.�
--St. John Cassian

The Centrality of God
“First of all it must be understood that it is the duty of all
Christians--especially of those whose calling dedicates them to the
spiritual life--to strive always and in every way to be united with
God, their creator, lover, benefactor, and their supreme good, by
Whom and for Whom they were created.  This is because the center
and the final purpose of the soul, which God created, must be God
Himself alone, and nothing else--God from whom the soul has
received its life and its nature, and for Whom it must eternally live.â
--St. Dimitry of Rostov

We may not escape to the desert--or even desire to.  But we will
have desert times in our lives, times of temptation and trial.  And
we'd be wise to create desert times--daily through devotions and
journaling; weekly through worship and small groups; and yearly
through holidays which recall us to the simple basics of our lives and
Simplifying Time
Simplifying Space