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Publisher's Summary

The Wisdom of the Desert was one of Thomas Merton's favorites among his own books, surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit.

The personal tones of the translations and the blend of reverence and humor so characteristic of him show how deeply Merton identified with the legendary authors of these sayings and parables, the fourth-century Christian fathers who sought solitude and contemplation in the deserts of the Near East.

The hermits of Screte, who turned their backs on a corrupt society remarkably like our own, had much in common with the Zen masters of China and Japan, and Father Merton made his selection from them with an eye to the kind of impact produced by the Zen mondo.

©1960 Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc. (P)2019 New Directions Publishing Corporation

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150 sayings & stories for Desert Fathers

A few weeks ago there was a sale on Audible and I picked up several audiobooks for under $3. The Wisdom of the Desert is probably not the best book for audio. It is a collection of 150 sayings or stories about the 4th-century desert fathers. These are sayings that, like poetry, are designed more for contemplation than consumption. Here are a few examples:

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”

“An elder was asked by a certain soldier if God would forgive a sinner. And he said to him: Tell me, beloved, if your cloak is torn, will you throw it away? The soldier replied and said: No. I will mend it and put it back on. The elder said to him: If you take care of your cloak, will God not be merciful to His own image?”

"It was said of one of the elders that he persevered in a fast of seventy weeks, eating only once a week. This elder asked God to reveal to him the meaning of a certain Scripture text, and God would not reveal it to him. So he said to himself: Look at all the work I have done without getting anywhere! I will go to one of the brothers and ask him. When he had gone out and closed the door and was starting on his way an angel of the Lord was sent to him, saying: The seventy weeks you fasted did not bring you any closer to God, but now that you have humbled yourself and set out to ask your brother, I am sent to reveal the meaning of that text. And opening to him the meaning which he sought, he went away.”

As others have said, there are many nuggets of wisdom here. And there are stories that show how far culturally we are from the desert fathers. I need to get a print version of this and read it again slowly. 

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Great overview of the desert fathers

Great overview of the desert fathers. Some history of them and then some of their sayings.

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  • jonathan carrasco
  • 01-15-20

excellent content but

excellent content with depths and wisdom. I would have preferred it with an English UK accent or even Middle Eastern, the American accent and pronunciation don't really suit the text.