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The Wisdom of the Desert (New Directions) by…

The Wisdom of the Desert (New Directions) (1960)

by Thomas Merton

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A small collection of Merton's favorite quotations from many of the "desert fathers" of late antiquity.

Merton's introductory essay is compelling, explaining the purpose of the collection and speaking highly of the "desert fathers" in a way that is not hagiographic but in appreciation of the wisdom accrued.

Many of the quotations are humorous, some can be a bit misanthropic, but on the whole there is some good wisdom to be found in many of the quotes. Much can be gained from a passionate pursuit of the ways of Jesus, although it is best in the context of people, as Jesus lived. ( )
  deusvitae | Nov 12, 2018 |
SEE : The Cistercians: The Life and Works of Thomas Merton.
  holycrossabbey | Mar 15, 2018 |
Merton translated and compiled the wisdom and advice of monks living a hermit-like life in the desert in the fourth century. It’s an interesting collection with some wonderful bits. I’ve listed some favorites below.

There’s one parable of a man who steals a book from one of the monks. He goes to sell it in the local town. The man he tries to sell it to asks the monk who originally owned it if it was a valuable book. Instead of turning the man in and explaining that it was stolen, the monk just told the buyer that it was valuable. His actions led the man to return the book and ask for forgiveness. Showing mercy was a much greater act of kindness and it reminded me so much of the powerful scene with the priest in Les Miserables.

BOTTOM LINE: Incredibly quick read with some great advice.

"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."

"Never acquire for yourself anything that you might hesitate to give to your brother if he asks you for it, for thus you would be found as a transgressor of God's command. If anyone asks, give to him, and if anyone wants to borrow from you, do not turn away from him."

“We have thrown down a light burden, which is the reprehending of our own selves, and we have chosen instead to bear a heavy burden, by justifying our own selves and condemning others.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 7, 2013 |
20th-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton here provides a collection of translations from the Verba of the "Desert Fathers," who were Egyptian hermits of the early Christian centuries. His aims in presenting these English versions of originally Coptic materials are inspirational rather than historical. But in something of a contrast with the ascetic and mystical expectations that a reader might bring to bear on these texts, they turn out to be full of practical psychology and all-too-human concerns. Nevertheless, I read this short volume while in the midst of Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, and it actually supports his thesis by demonstrating an impressively pure form of Christianity in its rejection of worldly values in favor of subjective strivings for autonomy and power over personal feelings.

The long essay with which Merton prefaces his translations is pleasant and fairly wise. I was quite struck by his quotation from what the body text offers as Saying III: "Therefore, whatever you see your soul desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe." (c.f. Quid voles illud fac.) Merton comments, "Obviously, such a path could only be traveled by one who was very alert and very sensitive to the landmarks of a trackless wilderness" (7). Reading these sayings put me in mind of my own experience of the psychic difference between the urban and the rural (the suburban being only the worst of both worlds), with an awareness of the way in which Christianity simultaneously denigrates and exalts the former.

Among the 150 sayings are a fair number of interesting and valuable ones concerning the spiritual worth of silence. There is, however, only one saying in the entire book (LXXXIX) which credits a female authority ("Abbess Syncletica of holy memory"), although women figure as sinfully tempting objects in several, and even as a deceitful accuser in the final one. My favorite is probably number CIX, in which an ass provides oracular confirmation of a hermit's priestly vocation.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Oct 5, 2012 |
The sayings of the Desert Fathers are, of course, excellent; every Christian without exception should at some point read them. They are filled with spiritual wisdom that applies even today, more than 1500 years since these great heroes of the Orthodox Christian Faith fought the good fight in the deserts of Egypt. This particular translation, though, is lacking. For instance, I'm not sure why Merton chose to use the term "abbot" rather than the original "abba" or the English translation "father" to refer to the Desert Fathers, but it is distracting and its implication (namely, that all of these men were abbots in the modern Western sense) is incorrect. While the translation is lacking, the presentation is beautiful. The book features a very nice, easy to read font, a soft chord bookmark, and a layout that makes it both easy to read and a great overall experience. If someone combined the presentation of this book with the translation of another, it would be an A plus. ( )
  davidpwithun | Sep 16, 2011 |
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In the fourth century A.D. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were people by a race of men who have left behind them a strange reputation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811201023, Paperback)

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, 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:19 -0400)

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