Tuesdays are for sharing what I’ve read in the past week. (Don’t judge the post by its alphabetical first work.)
“The Life of Paulus the First Hermit”
by St. Jerome
I’d recommend Athanasius’ Life of Antony to basically any Christian. This, Jerome’s own contribution to secondary literature on the Desert Fathers, is both a lot shorter and a whole lot stranger:
Before long in a small rocky valley shut in on all sides he sees a mannikin with hooked snout, horned forehead, and extremities like goats’ feet. When he saw this, Antony like a good soldier seized the shield of faith and the helmet of hope: the creature none the less began to offer to him the fruit of the palm-trees to support him on his journey and as it were pledges of peace. Antony perceiving this stopped and asked who he was. The answer he received from him was this:I am a mortal being and one of those inhabitants of the desert whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship under the names of Fauns, Satyrs, and Incubi. I am sent to represent my tribe. We pray you in our behalf to entreat the favour of your Lord and ours, who, we have learned, came once to save the world, and whose sound has gone forth into all the earth.’
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
by Norman Maclean
The title story (bordering on a novella in length), the one made into a spectacular film of the same name, is just as good as that movie. So read it already. There’s so much wisdom in it, you will not be surprised that Maclean didn’t write fiction till he was seventy (although I’m not sure how fictional this particular fiction is):
“All there is to thinking,” he said, “is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”
Thus far, I’ve read the second of the three stories, and I’ve begun the third. Some people consider writing taking place in the American West to be genre writing. Read Norman Maclean alongside Wallace Stegner and you’ll realize those critics are idiots.
The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry
by Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen lovers will tell you that Nouwen basically wrote one book fifty or so different times. While that is mostly true (and while we are happy to read them all), it does not mean that all Nouwen books are equal. This one is among the best (and my edition’s 1981 cover art makes it even better).
Silence is primarily a quality of the heart that leads to ever-growing charity. Once a visitor said to a hermit, “Sorry for making you break your rule.” But the monk answered, “My rule is to practice the virtue of hospitality towards those who come to see me and send them home in peace.”
Charity, not silence, is the purpose of the spiritual life and of ministry. About this all the Desert Fathers are unanimous.