About This Blog

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Bringing Jesus to the Desert" (Brad Nassif)

TITLE: Bringing Jesus to the Desert (Ancient Context, Ancient Faith)
AUTHOR: Bradley Nassif
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (144 pages).

Interest in desert spirituality continues to grow, with more people getting dissatisfied with contemporary offerings. New age spirituality, motivational talks, and all kinds of technological advancement are still deficient when it comes to plain, down to earth spirituality. There is much to be learnt from the desert fathers of old. Even as many modern folks tend to see old stuff being old-fashioned and backward, when compared to all the scientific prowess and technological advancements of late, wisdom proves to be something that science and technology badly lacked, and sorely needed. In this book, Bradley Nassif brings together a few of the more prominent desert fathers. The main conviction of the author is that there is much profound truths to be learned from these desert monks that can be applied to modern life. Instead of giving us raw primary sources, Nassif compiles them and categorizes them conveniently for modern eyes and ears.

A) Six Monks and One Nun

Like the short pithy sayings of the desert fathers of old, Nassif compiles this book into a relatively brief 144 pages long offering. One can easily expand the book with lots of commentaries, illustrations, and sayings, but the point of the brevity is that wisdom does not need multiple words of sophistication. It simply requires a simple and willing heart. This is what truth often comes across. Truth that begins with recognizing how the desert fathers and desert mothers intentionally flee from the ways of the world to seek God purely, without being entangled by the cares of the world. The desert offers such a retreat and solace from the world. The desert becomes a new form of "Holy Land" for a holy people of God, seeking to live more fully and more holy for God. More specifically, it is about a group of people seeking union with God. In fact, the new desert community created a new form of church that is different from the institutional church then during the fourth century in a post-Constantine era. Like Moses driven to the wilderness after killing an Egyptian, Makarios was falsely accused of something he did not do, which I elaborated later in great detail about how faithful God is in absolving him.  There are stories of spiritual discernment, of the practice of the Christian virtues of humility, patience, kindness, and endurance of all kinds of suffering.  The latter case is most pronounced when Nassif deals with the group of desert fathers called the Stylites. Simeon of Stylite practices a very radical form of discipleship, inflicting physical pain on himself as a form of extreme penance.

Then there is Pachomius who helps to banish any notion of monks being solely a solitary and hermit life. While Anthony is a 1st century hermit, this 12th Century saint builds up a new community called the cenobitic community, where monks come together to share, to work, and to live together. The establishment of the world renowned Benedictine movement in the Western Church owes largely to the work of Pachomius.

Not all the monks are male. Thankfully, Nassif inserts a desert mother called Melania. In a largely patriachal Arab culture, it is hard for women to rise up the ranks of religion and spirituality. This highly regarded 4th century nun is both a wise giver and a Bible lover. Known for her family wealth by the powers then, she is most known by her wisdom and deep knowledge of the Bible in religious counsel.  Melania's life is a classic testimony of learning voluntary poverty and generous philanthropy.

Closing Thoughts

Like the Jewish culture, these desert fathers are well known for their stories and wisdom associated with them. They are people who obeyed Scriptures to the letter. They lived out as close as possible the prescriptions in the Bible. In doing so, their years of hard pursuit of God and the strict disciplines have turned them into spiritual guides, counselors, and wise men for the rest of the society then. Nassif makes various references to both the ancient desert monks as well as modern writers such as Darrell Johnson. This explicit reference is for the benefit of the reader who are unfamiliar with the names.

Beginning with the Anthony of Egypt, also called the Patriarch of the Desert, Nassif gives a brief biography of this humble man, and tells of how one life can impact thousands of people, even today. Both the Western and Eastern flavours of Church look to Anthony with much respect. Then there is Makarios of Egypt who is a major player in making Sketis the "Heart Land" of Egypt in the fifth century.

This book will inspire modern readers that the way forward in the future involves a lot of learning from the past. Not only that, the quality of spirituality is deep and wise. Though the teachings are simple, there are profound. Modern believers who want to grow can take a leaf from the wise experiences and teachings of the desert spirituality. I warmly commend this book to anyone seeking to start a journey through desert spirituality. After all, in our land of technological advancement and scientific progress, there is a deep hunger for something more basic: Food for the heart. The desert is a rich buffet full of wise teachings. Learn from them. Thanks Nassif!

Ratings: 4.8 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment