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18 Theses on the Desert Fathers and Mothers

These sayings take experiences I have had in London and elsewhere and reframe them in the language of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

There was a holy man who was well known to a group of young men who had become interested in seeking God.  One day they came to him and said "We want to know how to pray but we are no good with all these fancy words and none of us can read very well."  The holy man said to them "Each of you go and find a large stone which you can carry with difficulty".  So they went and did as he suggested.  When they brought the stones to him he took a marker and asked them what they wanted to say to God.  This he then wrote on the stones and then took a map and pointed to a mountain saying "Carry your stones to the top of the mountain and there make a pile of them and in this way you will understand what prayer is".  The young men did as the holy man suggested and in this way learnt that prayer is a hard struggle requiring all our strength and commitment.
 
A seeker went to visit holy Doris each week.  One day the clouds were very low and there was a light, cold drizzle which penetrated everything.  When the seeker sat down he said "What a miserable day!"  But holy Doris said to him "This is a day that God has created and we should not call it miserable".
 
Holy Olu once said "What partnership can there be between the rich and poor?"
 
There was once two seekers who happened to go to the same church.  One was well educated and from a wealthy family whilst the other was poor with little education but both suffered from a number of chronic illnesses.  They happened to live near each other and walked home from church together.  The well educated seeker was suffering with a severe skin complaint and wanted to pray with someone but doubted that other people would understand what he was experiencing.  He realised that his fellow seeker who also suffered chronic illness would understand so he asked to pray with him and they became friends.  Thus in their shared poverty they overcame the difference in their background.
 
There was once a holy one who was a graffiti artist but the only words that he ever used were Holy Joy
 
Some seekers were once discussing the cultural diversity of East London in the presence of a holy woman.  They talked about what a wonderful thing it was and that it was a sign of divine providence but when they asked the holy woman what she thought she said "As for me it makes no difference whether everybody is the same or everybody is different so long as we are free to seek God".
 
There was a very old holy man who was highly respected but when questioned he said "Listen to nothing I say it is all lies"
 
And at another time he said "All I do is receive communion, read my Bible and try occasionally to show someone some love"
 
Some seekers were discussing television and there was a holy woman with them so they asked her what she thought about watching television and whether it was something that helped or hindered seeking God.  "I have never found anything wrong with watching television" said the holy woman "so long as watching the programme is the only thing I am doing".
 
At another time some seekers were discussing a famous preacher and how powerfully he made God's Word present.  They asked the same holy woman what she thought of the preacher and she said "I have never heard this man preach but I've heard of another preacher who one Sunday preached a sermon that he was very pleased with.  He waited by the door of the church to receive the congregation as they came out.  A man came up to him and said 'Thank you preacher that sermon was fantastic.  Just what I needed'.  Feeling gratified the preacher asked him 'Was there something in particular that you found helpful?' The man said to him 'Yes.  When you said that is the end of the first part of the sermon and I'm now moving on to the second part.  That is exactly what is happening in my life!  Thank you so much'."  The seekers found the story very amusing but the holy woman said to them "We should remember, it is not the preacher that speaks to a man's soul, but the Spirit of God that divides flesh from bone".
 
Holy John of Plaistow liked to tell the story of a time when some seekers took a group of East Enders to hear a famous preacher.  The man spoke very powerfully that night and the seekers were hopeful that he would make a great impact but the only thing the people said was "Cor, what a mouth!".  He said of this "In this way they demonstrated they understood more about God than those so-called 'seekers of God'".
 
Holy Colin said "It is not by words that we seek God.  The Word became flesh but we have turned the flesh into words".
 
Holy Donald was often heard to say "All of the unkind things that I have done in my life have been caused by being in a hurry".
 
A famous Biblical scholar came to visit a holy woman.  He had just written a book on the life of Jesus and she said to him "I greatly enjoyed reading your book.  A fascinating autobiography".
 
Some seekers were discussing the so-called 'prosperity gospel' in which people believe that faith in Jesus will lead to material prosperity.  One of the holy men was with them and they ask him what he thought of this teaching and he replied "Their faith must be very strong, as for me, even the site of a 50 note causes me to stray from my calling".
 
Later the same seekers were discussing Jesus's words "The poor you will always have with you" which they found difficult to understand but holy Juanita said to them "Yes, it is true there always be poor people, for there will always be rich people to oppress them".
 
A holy man was listening to a radio programme where someone described how he came to believe, in a moment of revelation, that there was no God.  The holy man was very intrigued by this and thought about it for a long time before saying "What he came to see was that it was not necessary to believe in God, but he will gain true insight when he also realises that it is also not necessary to disbelieve in God.  Belief in God is a completely free choice, there is nothing that can force you to believe in God and there is nothing that can force you not to believe.  This is why it is one of the most important choices we make".
 
A group of seekers were sitting around discussing the evils of individualism.  A holy man was sitting with them saying nothing until the after a long while he commented “You are right that individualism creates many problems, but whilst we try to control the world with our mind it is necessary for us to be individualists”.
 
Abba Linhay asked his friends "What are the things you enjoy?" His friends gave him a variety of answers and again he asked "And what are the things you dislike?" and again they gave a whole variety of answers. Then Abba Linhay said "When you say you enjoy this, or you enjoy that. You are not enjoying them but you have a memory of pleasant experiences associated with this, or with that. If you did that activity again you would not necessarily enjoy it. In fact, you might well dislike it. Enjoyment only happens in the present moment but we build our lives on our memories of those experiences of enjoyment.". His friends thought about what he said and replied "Yes, Abba, you are right. We think we enjoy things but when we do them again we find we don't enjoy them. But what does that mean for how we should live?" Abba Linhay replied "The only way to be happy is to nurture our souls so that we are able to find enjoyment in whatever we happen to be doing right now". But his friends asked "And what about those things we dislike. Are we able to find enjoyment in them?". Abba Linhay thought about this a long time and then said "There are three kinds of things we dislike. Those we can come to find enjoyment in, if we have love and a peaceful heart. Those which we can learn to tolerate if we have sufficient self-discipline. And those which are like devils to us and which we should avoid". And his friends replied "That requires great wisdom" and Abba Linhay replied "Yes it is a wisdom I have not yet acquired".