Bringing Jesus to the Desert (Ancient Context, Ancient Faith) by Brad Nassif & Gary M. Burge.
I must admit I was a little apprehensive when it came to dropping this one on the Kindle. I have listened to Dr Nassif on AFR and was happy from that perspective but it was included in an Evangelical Protestant book series put out by Zondervan Publishing. The apprehension came from feeling that some things would be held back in editing to dull the message for an audience less accustomed to the ascetic life.
Whether or not there was any chopping for the audience I was quite impressed at the result. This is by no means and exhaustive treatise on the Desert Fathers, it is an introductory text; but a better one than many I have in my bookshelf. While introductory and high level it walks through sharing with us the existence of these prayerful men and women of the early church and gives an understanding of their times, their struggles and their faith.
There are short extracts from the lives of these holy people, such as one of my old favourites where a Monk teaches another Monk humility by asking him to praise and chastise the dead and consider their response. Although hearing this quoted by many I did not know until this review that it should be attributed to St Marcarius.
Throughout the book the Authors also include hints and expansions on how we can take lessons from the desert, even without a leaning towards the monastic life, such as –
“To be sure, without spiritual purpose, work can make us despondent. Our routines can turn into cruel drudgery. But if we add Christlike purpose to our work, we can transform our daily routines into a spiritual cause. The salesperson will view their customer’s problems as a spiritual opportunity to cultivate a servant’s heart; a nurse’s obedience to a doctor’s request will become an exercise in meekness; writing “thank you” notes to former customers can create a deeper level of humility; correcting an error at work can foster the spiritual quality of repentance. If we contemplate the spiritual side of labor, we will come to understand that our work is not just a place where we till the soil; it is also where the soil tills us!”
For the audience not familiar with the ascetic life, there is a recurrent theme throughout the book fuelled by Dr Nassif’s life, of how the experience of the eastern family structure and everyday life affected how these early Christians lived and worshipped.
In conclusion, this book is a great introduction to the ascetic life and a number of significant examples of desert holiness. Brining Jesus is not difficult to read and I would even consider it as a present for non-Orthodox friends to share the monastic qualities with them. Now added to my eBook list here.