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Friday, 2 December 2005

The Wisdom of the Desert: by Thomas Merton

The Wisdom of the Desert
Thomas Merton
Shambhala Library
2005

No, this is not a book for a ‘Survivor’ wannabe, nor is it a guide for those who dream of crossing the great deserts of the world. But it is a guide of sorts, or more a companion for our pathways in life. This is a new reprinting of a collection of sayings from the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century.

You might ask, “Who are the desert fathers and mothers, and what written in the fourth century could be of any use to us today?” and they would both be good questions. The desert fathers were people who felt Christianity was losing its way, so they decided to return to a simpler life and went to the desert to seek solitude and god. However to some extent their plan failed; soon people realized these men and women had wisdom and guidance if one could ask them. So some of them developed great followings.

This collection is unique among those I have seen. in that it does not sort the sayings by author, or by subject, but rather it is a random smattering that the reader can meander through in order, or randomly flip open and read whichever one they come across. Merton in his introduction states, “This collection of sayings from the Verba Seniorum is by no means intended as a piece of research scholarship--this book is designed entirely for the reader’s interest and edification.” I believe it lives up to that goal.

At just under 200 pages, this book is short and sweet. Some of the more obscure sayings have been omitted and what is left is a collection of thoughts, meditations and reflections that can help us examine our lives. A few examples of the wisdom are:

“XLVI
Abbot Pastor said: ‘If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after a long while they will spoil and turn bad’.”

And

“XLVII
He said, again: ‘Malice will never drive out malice. But if someone does evil to you, you should do good to him, so that by your good work you may destroy his malice’.”
For more, pick up the book and check it out.

(First Published in Imprint 2005-12-02 as Words of wisdom from the sands'.)

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