Urban fathers



How to be alone

Three weeks in October

Desert spirituality

Living with the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Attitudes to the Desert fathers

Urban Fathers

Fairacres article

Holy Arnold

Poetry of the Desert

Guthlac prayers

New urban fathers

18 Theses on the Desert Fathers and Mothers

How to keep growing and never become stagnant


A curious person once asked holy Tony “How is it possible to please God?”.  “Well” he said “try this for starters: nurture an awareness of the presence of God everywhere you go; become familiar with the scriptures, especially the gospels, and use them to reflect on your day to day life; and don’t rush too quickly from one thing to another, be content with doing one thing really well.  If you follow these three practices you will be well on the way to pleasing God and finding a deep and profound happiness.”


Holy Grace said “If I claim to be a Christian I believe it is necessary to do three basic things.  Firstly to follow the way of Christ with my whole strength, soul and spirit.  Secondly to keep my tongue under control, not vomiting my insecurities, frustrations and irritations over other people.  And thirdly to not let my greed and fantasies lead me by the nose.


MacKenzie, an old and respected holy man, once asked Zachariah, a young friend of his “I have been wondering about what it is that makes someone truly a seeker after God”.  Zachariah was very surprised “Why are you asking me” said Zachariah “what can I add to what you already know?” McKenzie replied “I thought you would have something useful to contribute, just because I’ve been around it doesn’t mean I know everything”.  So Zachariah said “As far as I can tell, my dear old friend, anyone who is not a a slave to his emotions and is content with his needs rather than his greed, is a true seeker after God”.


Theodora was one of the most respected of the holy women, she was very rigorous in keeping to three tenets of her calling: poverty, solitude and a simple lifestyle.


There was a renowned holy man affectionately called little John because he was very short.  He once said “I have been imagining the perfect person – this is what I think he would be like: he would rise joyfully every morning, full of hope at the opportunity each day provides for simple living in the light of God.  God’s love would be always near him and he would have learned great patience in the midst of life’s troubles – having a consuming sense of awe in the face of God’s mystery.  He would have great determination and resilience; being deeply humble and profoundly committed no matter what he was feeling.  Prayer would be central to his life and this would enable him to keep control of his tongue and all his senses, yet he would be deeply aware of his weaknesses and limitations and never proud of his own achievements.  When he was injured or wronged he would not become angry but would remain peaceful in his heart; he would avoid judging others and trying to get his own back and would have no interest in his own reputation.  Furthermore he would have no desire for possessions or wealth but would seek to serve humanity and care for creation.  His major struggle would be with himself, to overcome his greed, fear and anger, but he would also fight against injustice with great wisdom and discernment, never letting ‘the cause’ overcome his humanity.  He would not be interested in receiving praise but would carry on with his own work no matter how hard and difficult it was.  Death would always be near him and it would cause him no fear.”


There was a theologian, who spent some time with the holy people, who tells this story about holy Jane, a much loved holy woman who had attracted a community of seekers around her.  When she was dying, she was cheerful and content and her friends were gathered around her, so they asked her for a few words that would guide them after she had gone.  She didn’t really want to say anything but after a period of silence said “I have never tried to control my own life and have never advised anyone to do anything which I haven’t first done myself.  Follow this way and you will find happiness”. 


Mother was once heard to say “Spirituality consists of this: awareness of what I am thinking and feeling, silence in the centre of my being and the ability to make discerning judgments”


At another time a seeker asked Mother “What are the rules of life that a seeker should follow ?  Aren’t there some basic protocols written down somewhere?”.  Mother replied “Have you read the book of Daniel?  All Daniel did was serve God and that got him into plenty of trouble.  You need do nothing more”.


Holy Simon said “If you learn the secret of not being in control of your own life and free yourself from the desire for individual freedom, you will have peace”


Holy Cham was dying and her friends were gathered around her so she shared these last final words with them “Do not be unsettled by the latest theological fashion.  Don’t be worried about what journalists and social commentators write about you.  Continue to give with generosity and your truth will make itself known”.


There was a famous saying amongst the holy people.  No one remembered who said it but the words were never forgotten “If you wish to grow into a vigorous and fruitful tree let humility and wonder, self control and tenderness take root in you”.


There was a group of holy people who had a very simple way of life.  They said “If you don’t like something being done to you, don’t do it to others.  If you don’t like it when people make snide comments about you, don’t make them about other people.  If you don’t like being made fun of, don’t make fun of others.  If you don’t like people stealing your ideas, or gossiping behind your back, or outwitting you, don’t do these things to other people.  If we all lived like this we would all be happy.”


There was a holy man who said “In my opinion this is the life of a seeker after God: work, putting self assertion aside, quiet contemplation, refusing to judging others, only saying what is good and helpful, never whinging.  Our love for God is expressed in our love for what is good.  When we live this life together it it is characterised by: making our home a place of goodness, acknowledging evil but refusing to become obsessed by it, focusing on our own walk not what other people are doing, not gossiping about people behind their backs, actively caring for others, thinking about and doing what is good, being humble, not being deceived by our greed and learning wise discrimination.  This is what makes our life together possible.


Another holy man gave his opinion “Humility is the starting point this will enable you to consider your own weaknesses and failings rather than judging other people.  From this point you can be of benefit to the world rather than another grasping parasite.  Only become intimate with people who will help your spiritual walk rather than those who will distract you, don’t think you can make it on your own irrespective of who your friends are.  Learn to control your tongue and your appetites and don’t be deceived by the easy pleasures of alcohol.  Finally don’t argue with people.  If you agree with someone, fine but if you disagree don’t get into a fight about it.  This is the only way to be at peace and focus your attention on seeking God.


Why being quiet is important


Holy Anthony said “When we retire into silence and solitude we escape the conflict that comes from hearing, speaking and seeing but we do not escape the far greater conflict, which is the conflict within our own hearts”


There was a theologian called Evangeline who spent some time with the holy people she said “I have tried to acquire the same quietness which I have experienced with the holy people and have found that if I control the desires of my heart, my mind becomes still and focused rather than running from one thing to the next”


Holy Moses said “The more time you spend alone the more your spirit can ripen and sweeten.  If you are always with other people your spirit will grow stale and bitter”


Holy Nils said “Quietness protects us from temptation and unhappiness.  When we are caught up in the busy world our desires are always tugging at us and we are constantly assailed by anger and fear”.


The Mother said “Quietness helps us focus our mind.  People who are always focusing on their bodies – worrying about their weight, concerned about their looks or obsessing about sex and sexuality –are like people walking along a precipice: one gust of wind and they are gone.  But the person whose mind is quiet is safe and secure at street level where God will protect her from the winds of fate.”


Holy Mary said “Many people become seekers in this city and fail.  This is because while they are pursuing their new life they’re always thinking about the life they have left behind.  It would be better for them to be living the old life and yearning for something new, than living the new and always looking back to the old”.


A holy man said “Do you want to buy something valuable?  Then buy for yourself quietness.  It will cost you everything you have but you will never have made a better purchase”


This story was often told amongst the holy people when someone asked about why they placed such a high value on quietness:  Once there were three friends, who was serious and dedicated young women and they decided to seek God.  The first one following the words of the gospel decided to become a peacemaker.  The second became a doctor.  But the third lived quietly in solitude.  The first one gave herself completely to the task of peacemaking but found she became exhausted by the continuous struggle and the many failures.  So she went to her friend who was a doctor but found that she too was exhausted and disillusioned with her profession so they went together to see their third friend and tell her their troubles.  When they arrived they asked her how she was getting on but she took a a long time to reply.  Finally she placed a glass bowl in front of them and went outside to get some water from the water butt.  Returning she noisily poured the water into the bowl causing it to splash a everywhere, they looked into the bowl and it was all murky.  Then they waited.  And finally she spoke “Look now the water has become clear”.  The two friends looked into the water and they could see their own faces as if they were looking in a mirror.  So finally she said to her two old friends “This is what happens to you when you live among crowds, everything is turbulent and you don’t see the depths of your own failings, but if you take time to be quiet and alone, everything becomes clear and you see yourself as you truly are”.


On the proper use of guilt and sorrow


Holy Arnold used to work hard in his garden but every time he did so he was liable to cry because it made him think of all the time he had wasted in useless luxury


A seeker once asked holy Amanda for a word of advice so she said “Most people are in prison.  We are imprisoned by greed, fear and anger.  It is only when we acknowledge this and come before God and ask for mercy that we can be released”.


Evangeline the theologian encouraged seekers to meditate on their death “Remember the day of your death and you will see that your body is decaying.  Think about the loss, feel the pain.  A day of judgement is coming when all will be revealed.  Focusing on these things keeps the mind quiet and free of harmful thoughts”.


Holy Elias said “I do not fear anything except for this: the moment before I die, the moment before I meet God, the moment before God reveals to me the true character of my life”.


When Arnold’s friend to the Bishop of Hackney was dying he said to Arnold “I now understand you my old friend because for you death was never something distant and far off but a close companion and an ever present reality”


Some seekers were gathered together for a celebration.  It was a good natured and happy time with much laughter but then they saw that holy Jean had gone to be by herself and she was quietly crying when they asked her why, she said “There is so much joy here but the world is full of pain and sadness and misery”.


Holy Jacob said “Fear brings great darkness into people’s lives but the fear of God is not like that.  It is like switching on mains electricity; where before everything was dark and gloomy, now everything is lit by a penetrating light which illuminates the heart”.


Some of the seekers said to holy Marina who came from Egham.  “You’re old but your body is strong and supple – how do you manage that?”.  Marina said to them “A path that is used is kept clear of brambles and weeds – I use my body to worship God so it remains strong”.


Some seekers from South London sent a message to East London to ask of the holy McKenzie to come and see them.  They said if he did not come they would all come to East London to see him before he died, so McKenzie took a a bus to see them at the Elephant and Castle and the seekers from all over South London gathered there.  They asked him to say something to them but instead he started to cry saying “Let us pray and weep my friends for we have made a great mess of this life, raping the earth and devouring humanity, and when we die we will surely be called to account”.  The seekers were shocked and surprised but they too began to cry for they realized that they too were responsible.


Once Mother was walking past the cemetery when she saw a woman kneeling by a grave weeping quietly and she said to her friends “If this woman was told she had won the lottery it would be no comfort to her.  In this she is an example to those of us to say we are seeking God, we should pay no attention to success and fame but rather reflect honestly on our own failings and the state of the world; this too would bring us to tears”


At another time Mother said “A seeker should not be afraid of grief, it brings much good and keeps sin at bay”


A seeker once asked Mother “Can you give me some advice about how to seek God” and she said to her “You know the story of Abraham and Sarah.  They came to the land which was going to be their home and Abraham bought some land but used it to build, not a house, but a grave.  You too should seek a burying place”.  The seeker still did not understand so she asked “What is a burying place?” And Mother replied “A place where you can excavate your sorrow and discover your tears”.


The Bishop of Westminster invited holy Pandit to come into town but he found Pandit standing before some enormous advertising hoardings crying, when the Bishop asked him what the matter was he replied “This blatant worship of materialism is awful, but what is worse is that more creativity and skill is put into this mendacity than we put into our service of God”


Holy Sylvia was once at a gathering of seekers when she had a vision.  Afterwards she was very sad and was often found by herself crying.  The seekers tried to comfort her and asked her what had happened but she said nothing.  Eventually they managed to prevail on her to share with them her experience and she said “God granted me a vision of the last judgement and I saw that many seekers were proved false and that they had wasted their lives, whilst many who lived in the world had secretly found God”.  After this Sylvia remained deeply troubled and was very reluctant to attend meetings of seekers and other gatherings.


Holy Perry said “We seekers are constantly trying to discern God’s wisdom and desiring to encounter God’s love, but it is when our tears flow that God comes down to meet with us and live with us”.


Once some seekers went to see holy Felicity, seeking spiritual guidance but she had some visitors with her, nonetheless they still sought her advice but she ignored them.  They, however, persisted and eventually Felicity turned to them and said “Were you’re looking for some advice?” They replied positively and eagerly but she said to them “I have no advice to offer you.  When I give advice I am not trying to bring my own opinion into the situation, I am seeking God’s wisdom.  But nowadays people seem to be playing games rather than simply seeking God and in these times I have nothing to say.” These words struck home and the seekers left only asking that Felicity should pray for them.


Holy Horace and holy Theodore where helping get ready a room for a new seeker, they were enjoying themselves and lost all sense of time, then they suddenly said together “What are we doing?  We are neglecting our real work!” Immediately they dropped their paint brushes and paint pots and returned to their own rooms.


A holy woman told this story.  A young woman wanted to leave behind her comfortable, high achieving life and become a seeker but her family resisted this, and her friends also.  Eventually, however, she found the strength to leave them all behind and began to seek God.  But she found it difficult and lived in a half hearted way.  Then her mother died and she herself became seriously ill.  During her illness she became delirious and had a vision.  In her vision she saw her mother in a bleak and barren place and when she went to meet her, her mother scolded her saying “I thought you were better than this, why have you come to live with me in this desert”.  Soon the seeker recovered from her illness and she was chastised by the words of her mother, so began to seek God with real earnestness, even the other seekers began to wonder if she was going too far, but she replied to them saying “If my mother could chastise me in this way for not following my path, how much more terrible will it be when I meet God”.


The same holy woman once said “If we think about our death it can be a terrifying thing, we might even die from fear of death!  This causes some people to say that nothing happens after our death, but as for me, I judge it better to consider each of my actions in the light of that eternal question”.


A seeker went to a holy man because he was struggling with his vocation “My heart feels hard and I have lost all sense of God” So the holy man said to him “If you remove yourself from the centre you will rediscover God “ but the seeker said “What does it mean to remove myself from the centre?” The holy man replied by saying “If you recognise your own insignificance and that humanity is not the centre of the universe, you open yourself to the power of God and are therefore able to have that experience of fear and joy which will soften your heart and enable you to taste God once more”


A holy woman said “We can never escape our shadow and in the same way we can never escape sadness.  Accepting this is the beginning of a holy life”.


A seeker asked a holy man for some guidance on his journey.  The holy man thought for a while and said “You seek God and that is a joyous thing, but scripture teaches us that to meet God is a fearful thing and that it brings tears before it brings liberation”.


A holy woman was often heard to say “Tears and sorrow are the only way to God”.  One of the seekers thought that this was a misanthropic attitude so challenged her but she replied “We are destroying the ecosystem which sustains us, we are murdering each other in pointless wars and we don’t even know how to treat our families with kindness – and you say to me that there is some other way apart from tears and sorrow?”


A seeker came to a holy man and said “The holy people are all so profoundly in touch with their feelings, they cry and they laugh and they always seem so deeply alive.  But I just feel grey, bound up in my worries and insecurities.  What am I to do?”.  The holy man said to him “Before the Israelites entered the promised land they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  It is the same for us we only achieve real life through much struggle”.

How to gain control over your emotions and live a more fruitful life

Some seekers from South London went to visit the famous holy Tony.  When they’re on the way they met an old man who was also going to see him so they travelled together.  The traffic was bad and it took a long time and the seekers chatted amongst themselves about their lives and their opinions, but the old man said nothing.  When they arrived at holy Tony’s he said to the seekers “I see you found a good travelling companion” and to the old man “and you also had good companions”.  At this the old man spoke “Yes, they are good people but they have not fitted locks to their houses and soon burglars will come and steal everything they have”.  He said this because of the incessant and thoughtless chatter with which they had filled the journey.


A seeker once came to see holy Angela but saw that she was drinking her tea very gingerly and asked her if she had a problem with her mouth.  Angela replied “Well it is a strange thing.  I have been struggling for some time with a grievance I held against an old companion.  It has been hard because they caused me much trouble, but eventually I felt able to give it to God and the very next day this mouth ulcer appeared.  Now as the ulcer shrinks day by day, so I can feel my resentment disappearing”.


Holy Angela once went to visit her friend Isaiah, who lived a very secluded life.  When she was clearing things away she saw a Big Mac wrapper in the rubbish bin, picking it up she asked Isaiah “What is this?”.  Embarrassed, Isaiah replied “Sometimes I just have a craving for junk food”, Angela replied “So you seek God by helping to destroy the rainforest and poisoning your body?” After this Isaiah became known as the Hamburger Hermit.


Holy Adam was very ill and was virtually bed bound for many years but he never gave up the struggle to manage his emotions.  People brought him gifts because of his illness but he never expected or demanded them, he accepted everything that was brought to him but if he didn’t have what he needed he accepted that with equanimity.


Some seekers went to see holy Benjamin and they brought him a slim bar of finest quality fair trade chocolate as a present, having heard that it was his favourite.  He received it gratefully, treating it as a great treasure, but when the seekers were helping to wash up and put away they found another bar of the chocolate seemingly forgotten at the back of the cupboard, with only a few squares removed.  They felt disappointed at this, thinking holy Benjamin had deceived them so they asked him about it and he said “Yes, this chocolate is so excellent that I keep it as a celebration for the holiest days of the year, in this way I have learnt to fully appreciate its taste and don’t bother with inferior chocolates”.  They were amazed at his discrimination and discipline.


Diana of Newham was a very dedicated and systematic holy woman.  At the beginning of each year she made a new resolution: to only eat local produce, to spend a day a week in complete silence, to befriend a homeless person.  This was her method for seeking God, she mastered one discipline and then moved on to the next.


The theologian Evangeline used to talk about a lesson she learnt from an obscure holy man who understood the connection between greed and anger, he said “I become angry because I do not have what my greed demands and I become greedy because I am angry with the world”.


Edward, the Bishop of Peckham, was dying and he sent a message to holy Hilary asking to see her before he died.  When Hilary came to see him he prepared a roast chicken for them but Hilary said “Since I began seeking God I have never eaten anything that has been killed”, Edward was sorry about this but said “I too took a vow when I began to seek God but that was never to go to sleep whilst I had an enemy in the world”.  Hilary apologised and said “I think you have followed a better way than mine”.


Holy Theodore was asked a question about the value of self control and replied “Learning to eat frugally is of great spiritual benefit” but someone else who was there at the time said “But keeping vigil all through the night is of even greater benefit”.


Holy John, who was known as Shorty, said “Often generals and the men of war are wiser than us.  They make sure their men are well fed whilst denying food and supplies to their enemy, for they know that what we eat is fundamental.  This is why the holy people give time and effort to eating what is most beneficial”.


Holy John was very sensitive.  He stayed inside most of the time but when he needed to go outside in order to get supplies for his work he often found himself being overwhelmed by the noise and aggressiveness of people.  This is why he found it best to retire into quietness.


Ina who was a priest in Clapton told a story about a holy woman she knew.  She worked as an auxiliary nurse in the operating theatre and once asked her supervisor if she could Have A plaster for a small cut on her ankle.  The supervisor replied “People go home every day with their pockets full of plasters and every kind of supplies and you ask me for one plaster?” But he did not understand how important it was for the holy people to be completely honest.


Isabel who was a priest in East London but also one of the holy people was asked by a seeker why she was so happy and she replied “Ever since I started on this way I have tried to make sure that I did not let anger spew out of my mouth “then she went on to say “I have the same feelings of lust, anxiety and anger as everyone else but I choose not to obey them and in this way have found some freedom and joy”


There was a holy man called John who went to see his good friend Parminder who had lived for 40 years on a very obscure estate on the edge of London.  The two friends loved each other deeply and John was able to ask Parminder with complete candour “You have lived here a long time and I can see you are deeply at peace with the place, tell me what do you feel you have really achieved?” Parminder replied “I came here because I was a very greedy person, I desired wealth and fame and the good things of life but I am now glad that I have escaped from that servitude, I am content to eat the simplest of food, live with nothing and be known by virtually no one”.  John nodded his agreement and said “I was a very angry man, but now when I feel the slightest flicker of anger, I start laughing”.  This story was told by the writer Cassandra when people asked her what attracted her to the holy ones.


Cassandra also told this story about a holy people which she had heard from holy Moses.  It concerns holy Sara when she was a young woman living with holy Theodora.  Sara used to steal biscuits from Theodora and it became a compulsion, she just found that she couldn’t stop doing it even when she wasn’t hungry, but Theodora was completely unaware of what was going on.  Then one day some seekers came to see Theodora who spoke to them about the importance of honesty, particularly with people from whom you are seeking spiritual guidance.  Sara felt herself physically stricken by these words and brought out the biscuits she had been hiding and confessed everything with loud sobs.  Theodora spoke gently to her “Do not worry my dear, your confession has already healed you, who can doubt that you are truly sorry for what you have done.  Be at peace.” At these words Sara let out a great sigh, the the the but then a graceful calm descended upon her.  Some of those present said that it seemed as if she was, for a brief moment, consumed in a mystical fire.


Holy Marjorie was much loved by the seekers and when a group of them came to see her they would often bring some fried chicken from the local takeaway.  Marjorie never ate fast food but for the sake of the seekers ate it without question, but the next day she always fasted because the food made her feel unclean.  When the seekers found out about this they stopped bringing takeaways when they came to see her.


At another time the seekers were gathered together in a church service and and afterwards holy Marjorie said “It is no good we must give up everything”.  The seekers replied to her “What do you mean we already have given up everything!”.  Marjorie said nothing but put her fingers to her lips and returned home.


Mother was very careful about what she ate.  It was part of her spiritual discipline to avoid eating anything that involved unnecessary exploitation of the earth, but it was also part of her spiritual discipline to give and receive hospitality.  This is why she often wept when invited to a social gathering, for she felt deeply the contradictions involved in seeking God.


Once Mother was told about some seekers who didn’t drink.  She replied “When we seek God, we are looking for a different kind of spirit”.


Holy Pierre was well-known for doing something else while he ate.  When he was asked about this he said that there was no reason for it, but at another time when he was asked he said “I do not like food to be my God”.


Holy Peter, who lived in Clapton, didn’t eat cake.  When he grew very old the seekers organised a celebration of his life but still he refused to eat the cake they had made, but he did eat some bread and butter.  As he ate it he said “Thank you my friends, this bread is wonderful, it tastes to me like the finest cake”.  That was the way he was, stubbornly content with the simplest things in life.


Once some seekers went with holy Sara to a house that had been used as a hermitage by a holy man.  As they were clearing it out they found a case of wine and they opened some bottles at the end of the day.  Holy Sara had two small glasses but when she was offered a third she said “Drunkenness has not stopped being a sin”.


Another seeker went to talk to holy Sara and said “When I go to church I enjoy meeting up with the other seekers but they often like to go to the pub or restaurant and it seems to me they are more interested in drink and food than God” “Yes” said Sara “I can see that that would be a burden”.  Another seeker asked holy Sara “Is it OK for me to join with the other seekers in having a few drinks?” Sara replied “If we were perfect and without sin alcohol would hold no dangers”.


Holy Sara had a birthday and the seekers wanted to make her a special meal.  They asked her what she would like to eat for her birthday but she replied “What was it that we ate yesterday?” “Potatoes” they replied.  “That will do” she said.


Holy Sara said “I have come to realise that sin is inevitable.  Every time I open my mouth I am either boasting, lying or deceiving myself in some way”.


Holy Simon and his friend Zachary were visiting some seekers and before they left they shared some fried chicken and Coke for a farewell meal.  Some days later Simon and Zachary were out again together when Zachary went into a shop and bought a can of Coke.  Simon said to him “Are you really going to drink that?” Zachary were surprised and said “You didn’t have any problem drinking Coke the other day”.  Simon replied “We ate that meal out of love, now that we are free let us respect our bodies”.


Holy Sylvia said “Sexual morality is certainly important but it’s about a lot more than not sleeping around.  It’s about attitude and treating both sexes with respect and providing a place of welcome for people no matter what their sexuality”.


She also said “Poison can be cured by an antidote and in the same way our unease and restlessness can be cured by self control and reliance on God”


Furthermore holy Sylvia said “There are many beautiful and fascinating things in the world but if you hunger after them they will destroy you.  Greedy insinuates itself into us and destroys what is good.  This is why I eat simply and avoid alcohol”


Holy Simon was once asked why he always stayed in one place and didn’t take the opportunity to travel and get to know other cultures and spiritual traditions he replied “My journey is to learn how to keep quiet and judge no one”

Holy Hyacinth said “It is true that many Christians are afraid of sex but that is as nothing compared to the fear that the sexually predatory feel for purity”


She also said “For the seeker controlling the appetite is fundamental, without that you are wide open to all addictions”


She also said “Controlling our sexual appetites is difficult for everyone but it brings great rewards”


She also said “It is the ability to control the tongue that is the foundation of all self control.  Without it you are a slave to your feelings”


Furthermore she said “If you claim to seek the good but speak evil words then you are like an apple tree which produces thorns rather than fruit”


Finally she said “Speaking against our neighbour is most destructive of all.  As we whisper our malicious words we become like the serpent whose whisperings destroyed paradise”. 


Once some seekers went Epping forest for a picnic and bottles of beer were handed out, but one of the holy ones refused a bottle and said “Isn’t it possible for us to just enjoy being alive rather than drinking this poison”.  After this everyone stopped drinking.


Once a holy man went to visit a famous pilgrimage site.  When he came back the seekers asked him what he had found and he said “There was a wonderful silence in that place”.  The seekers began to talk amongst themselves and said “Things aren’t what they used to be, in the old days that place was full of people and he would have found no silence there”.  But the holy man heard them saying this and said “Oh yes there were plenty of people there, but I only sought the silence”.


Two holy people used to meet regularly to share and talk about their struggles in seeking God.  They would always start with making each other a cup of tea but by the end of their conversation it was always left cold and undrunk so intent were they on their conversation.


A holy woman had a liking for Mars Bars and on her birthday two people each gave her one as a small present.  She was going to have one for breakfast and save the other but when she sat down for breakfast she said to herself “No I will save it until lunch”.  When it came to lunch she looked at the Mars Bar and thought “I will not eat it now, but I will have it at supper time”.  Then when it came to supper she was about to open the bar but thought “No I will not eat it today, I’ll leave it until tomorrow”.  This went on for some time until a few days later she had some guests and she shared the Mars Bars with them, not eating any of them herself.  After that she lost all desire for sweets.


There was an ancient holy man who was looked after by a group of seekers.  One of them heard that he particularly liked cauliflower cheese so he often made it for him.  After a while he learnt that he had misunderstood what had been told him and that in fact the holy man would eat anything except cauliflower cheese.  The seeker was mortified and immediately went to apologise but the holy man said to him “Don’t worry you have helped me get beyond my likes and dislikes.  I still don’t like a cauliflower cheese but it seems to me that God made use of your hasty misunderstanding”.

A story was told about a holy woman who found herself distracted by hoardings advertising sweets and other confectionery.  Therefore, whenever she saw a new sweet advertised she would purchase it, unwrap it and leave it on her window sill until it went mouldy and rotten.  In this way she cured herself from her distraction.


A holy man refused to have a web browser on his computer.  When asked about this he said “The Internet is full of pornography and I am more at peace when I know I am not able to access it”


Some holy people went on a church conference.  They had an enjoyable and beneficial time but towards the end of the conference they were served some fish and they happened to find out that it was not sourced from a sustainable fishery.  They immediately stopped eating and said “How can anything spiritual be based on despoiling the earth?”


The holy people had just finished a simple meal of lentil stew and cleared away the dishes when a friend arrived home from the country with a sumptuous meal of his own organically reared beef.  Without question the holy people welcomed their friend and ate his meal without mentioning that they were already full.


A holy woman was ill and one of her friends, hearing about this, brought her a herbal remedy that she put great faith in.  When she came to the holy woman she said “Try this, you never know it might do you some good” but the holy woman said “I am content with my condition and pray that God will save me from using up my life in searching for a cure”.


There was a holy man who was visited by a priest who found that he was looking unwell, so he decided to take him out for a meal.  During the meal the holy man looked around and said “I had forgotten that this is what people did in order to enjoy themselves” and then a little later he started crying softly and said “Sorry, but I had hoped to finish my days without using alcohol and consuming rich food”.


A holy woman had decided to never drink alcohol but she kept a bottle of whisky on top of her book shelf.  When she was asked about this she said “It is a reminder for me of a decision I have made and it strengthens me as I make other decisions about my life”.


A holy man went to a church where everyone was very effusive, kissing and hugging each other but he kept very quiet and avoided making even a eye contact.  Afterwards, when most people had left the priest, who knew him, asked why he was being so quiet to which the holy man replied “I am ashamed to be involved with such good people.  If I participated in such displays of affection I would become sexually aroused, but obviously this is not the case for them.  I see I still have much to learn”.


A holy woman kept to a strict diet and during holy week she fasted.  She came to the Easter Sunday eucharist but quickly left before the shared meal, later when she was asked about this she said “I find my simple lifestyle and strict diet so helpful that I find it difficult to participate cheerfully when people are eating and drinking, it therefore seems better for me to leave quietly”. 


Some holy people and seekers were gathered together in a room.  One of the other seekers was ill because he had become obsessed with fasting.  He started to cough and sprayed spit on to the one of the hands of the holy man.  The holy man immediately felt furious and thought to himself “You fucking idiot.  You’re trying to be so bloody holy but all you’ve succeeded in doing is making yourself ill”.  But he managed to control himself and saying nothing licked the spit off his hand thinking to himself “If you want to indulge your anger then you must eat what sickens you”.

How to live with sexual desire


Holy Tony said “Sexual desire is a powerful motivation in our life because it has three powerful components.  Firstly it is an inevitable part of human nature.  Without sexual desire we would not reproduce and therefore we would not exist.  But there is more to sexual desire than this natural impulse.  Secondly it is an arena for human greed.  We desire to possess other people who seem to us attractive and desirable.  Possessing one other person in this way really satisfies our greed, we continue to want to possess more and more.  Nothing activates human greed more than sexual desire.  But thirdly there is a more subtle way in which sexual desire can motivate us.  Because of the power of sexual desire we can come to believe that having sex is some kind of spiritual experience which will give meaning to our lives.  Something in us tells us that having sex with this particularly attractive person will revitalise us and be a solution to the dissatisfactions of life.”


Holy Gertrude said “It is good not to be promiscuous but that is about more than not sleeping around.  In my experience many people are disrupted by a promiscuity of the heart which is full of restless desire.  For these people Proverbs 4:23 “Let everyone keep a close guard upon his heart” is a helpful text.”


The theologian Cassandra reported what holy Moshe had told her “When it comes to struggles with our sexuality it is good to have someone to be open with and share what is going on for us.  But make sure this is someone with genuine wisdom and sympathy, too many people are bound up in their own insecurities and fears or have an unhealthy curiosity about other people’s sex lives”.


There was once a very sincere seeker who wanted to dedicate his life to God but he was greatly troubled by sexual fantasies so he went to an old seeker to talk about them.  The old seeker was shocked and horrified and told the young man that it was immoral to have such thoughts, thinking that it would give seekers a bad name to have such perverted people amongst them.  The young man was devastated and decided to give up on his plans, but as he was sitting disconsolately in the pub he was seen by holy Adam.  Adam came and talked to him, the young man was very reluctant to say anything but eventually Adam’s gentle persistence won through and he shared everything with him.  Adam was not in the least bit shocked but said to the young seeker ‘I have had exactly the same struggles, but have gradually learned to manage them.  Trust in the way that God has called you to and you too will find a way of managing’.  The young seeker was greatly encouraged by this and he went back to his calling with renewed hope.  Adam, however, was worried at the foolishness of the old seeker and he spent many days praying vigorously that God would bring him wisdom even in his last days.  After some time it so happened that the old seeker came to visit Adam and he was obviously very troubled.  He told Adam about a young seeker who had come to visit him and talk about his struggles with sexual fantasies, the old man said that ever since then he had found himself torn apart by disturbing fantasies himself.  He was very angry with the young man and blamed him for everything.  Adam listened quietly to what the old man said but then replied “These troubles you have brought upon yourself.  If you had listened humbly and with compassion to the young man you would not have found yourself disturbed by your own fantasies”.  The old man were shocked but said nothing, eventually after a long period of silence he replied “Yes you are right.  My anger unleashed my own demons, things that I was not aware of in myself that have overwhelmed me”.  Adam replied “We need to remember that our way is a way of gentleness and compassion not of judgement and self righteousness”.


Holy Sara who lived near Alexandra palace said “When it comes to lust I am more worried about people who are not tempted than people who are tempted.  In my experience the only people who aren’t tempted are the ones who indulge their sexual appetites at every opportunity”.


A seeker came to speak to a holy man because he was struggling with sexual temptations.  The holy man asked him “So tell me what happens.  Do you find yourself attracted to women you meet and think about having sex with them?” The seeker said “No, it is all the images I see around me every day.  I find them very sexually provocative”.  To this the holy man replied “You need to remember that these images are not real women.  They are fabrications, they are not what women are really like.  Focus your attention on real, daily life and with prayer you will overcome these struggles”.


A seeker came to speak to holy Martha and said “We are too obsessed with sex.  As far as I’m concerned slander is much worse than fornication”.  Martha replied “That is an interesting thought” but the seeker persisted and said “But what do you think?” and Martha replied “Slander is certainly very destructive, but it can be undone by humility and apologising.  The results of fornication are much more complicated and more difficult to undo.”


The Mother said “Nowadays if you try to go to 10 Downing Street to see the Prime Minister you can’t get in because there’s a fence, policemen and all kinds of security procedures.  In the same way we have learnt that we need to protect ourselves from the seductions of lust and that the seeds of sexual predators”.


A seeker came to see the Mother and said “Mother I am really struggling with my sexuality.  I went to see holy Hyacinth and she said I must just learn to to shut my sexual feelings in a box and put it away.  I tried, but I’m still struggling”.  In reply the Mother said “Hyacinth is a holy woman but she’s living on a different planet from the rest of us.  She doesn’t have to struggle with her sexual desire but for the rest of us it’s a daily experience.  I have found that if you live a simple life, keep your tongue under control, don’t let your anger spew out over other people and continue to spend time alone in quietness you will find you have the resources to manage your sexual desires appropriately”.


Holy Sarah was a very attractive woman and despite being in a happy relationship was always been propositioned.  She found this very difficult for she was a woman of powerful appetites and she enjoyed sex.  Nonetheless she prevailed.


Once her partner said to her “I am so grateful that you have loved me faithfully all these years.  You could have had anyone you wanted but I know that you have not been tempted, even once.  You have amazing self control.” Sarah replied “O I have been tempted many times and I would have succumbed if I relied on my own willpower.  It is only the Spirit of Jesus that has enabled my body to act in the way that I truly desired”.


A seeker was very unsettled about his sexuality and it was causing him a lot of trouble so he went to see a holy man to talk about it who said to him “Don’t worry unduly about this.  It is good that you want to talk about your struggles, most problems with our sexuality come from concealment and shame.  Whenever you need feel free to come and see me”.  The seeker took him at his word and frequently came to see him bringing up all the usual issues such as masturbation, homosexuality, , pornographic images, the difference between love and lust and various infatuations he suffered from.  The holy man helped him address these issues patiently but the seeker grew distressed with his continual struggles so the holy man said to him “You come to me because you think I am perfect and that I have never had to struggle with my sexuality.  But this is not the case even at my age I suffer from the most lurid sexual fantasies.  I have found that if I do not dwell on them and worry about them then it becomes quite possible to live at peace with myself”.  The seeker was very struck by the holy man’s humility and from then on was more at ease with himself.


Another seeker had a similar struggle with his sexuality.  For many years he carried on by himself but still felt very ill at ease.  Eventually he went to the community of seekers and shared what was going on for him.  Both he and the community found this very liberating and through their prayers and encouragement he managed to find his way of being at ease with himself.


A holy woman said this about lust and sexual desire “If you are struggling with your feelings and desires and they are making you do things you don’t want to do or making you feel unsettled you are not helpless.  Take the example of boxers.  If you walked into a boxing ring you would quickly find yourself beaten up and badly hurt, but if you prepared yourself then you would become strong and so you would be able to hold your own and even win matches.  It is the same with our sexual desires.  We can train ourselves to resist temptations and make our spirits strong, we are not just victims who must do whatever our feelings tell us to do”.


A holy man said it this way “When you pass a kebab shop you smell the meat cooking and if you want to you can go in and eat.  But you don’t have to, you could carry on your way and ignore the smell.  We have the same choice concerning our sexual desires, when we are tempted sexually we can choose to indulge that temptation or we can choose not to.  We cannot make temptations vanish but we can struggle against them.  All human beings have this power”.


Another holy woman said “Temptation comes from carelessness and forgetfulness.  If we remember that God dwells in us we will never allow anything inside us which is not of God.  It’s that simple”.


A seeker was talking to a holy man and said “It must be difficult for you holy people when you suffer from temptation, you have a reputation to maintain and if you fail you will be a laughing stock.  But from beginners, like me, nobody expects much, so it is easier”.  The holy man said in reply “I look at it this way.  We are like people building their own house.  If I fail and my house falls down then I have already learnt a lot about building and I have materials and foundations that I can reuse.  But for the beginner they have nothing and they must learn everything from scratch.  It is the same in the spiritual life.  I am not afraid of making mistakes, I have made them in the past and will make them in the future, when I do I return to my rhythm of singing the psalms, working with my hands and silent prayer and this sets me right.  Until you have found your rhythm you will find it hard to make progress in building your house”.


A seeker came to see a holy woman.  She was very distressed because of her sexual desire for a man who lived in her street, she asked a holy woman to pray for her and she was happy to do so.  Soon after she came back to the holy woman and was in great distress “Please, pray for me, I am being tortured by this man I can’t get him out of my head”.  So again the holy woman prayed for her.  Then, one day, the holy woman was passing her house and decided to pop in to see her.  She noticed that the woman was unsettled, always looking out of the window and that there was a chair placed looking out on to the street.  The woman again asked the holy woman to pray for her saying that she thought the man must have a evil spirit in him and was tempting her to sin.  But this time the holy woman had realized where the problem was and said “There is nothing wrong with this man, the problem is inside you.  Buy some net curtains and stop titillating yourself with these fantasies”.  The woman was taken aback by these words but realised the truth of them and from that point began to make progress.


A seeker, who was a friend of one of the holy man was having a difficult time because of a troublesome relationship.  The holy man said to him “Shall I pray for you to be released from this situation?” But the seeker replied “No, this is something I have got myself into and as I struggle with it I find I am learning a lot about myself, but pray that God will give me the patience that I need in order to act in a healthy way.” To this his friend replied “Yes, of course, and may I say that in this you show a wisdom which is far beyond anything that I have achieved”.


There was once a holy man who was a single father and he lived with his son, so the boy grew up entirely within the circle of the holy people, they educated him and he knew very little about the outside world because they had no television and kept themselves to themselves.  One day the holy man went on a journey and he took his son with him.  The man left his son sitting on a bench at the railway station for a short while and when he came back he found his son reading a soft porn magazine that he had found on the bench and his son said to him “These women have forgotten to put their clothes on and someone has taken photographs of them.  Why do women not do this more often, they are very beautiful”.  The holy man said to his son “Yes, indeed, the human body is beautiful and for this reason we cover it with clothes so that its beauty is hidden and it remains something to be treasured and treated with respect”.


There was a holy woman who began to be troubled by thoughts from her past when she had had a string of attractive young men as her lovers.  She found herself remembering how good looking they were and times when she had had fantastic sex with them.  Then she heard that one of them was very unwell and she went to visit him in hospital.  When she arrived she found that he was overweight, that his skin was flabby and sickly and, furthermore, he could hardly talk with her.  Afterwards she said to herself “I have been longing for what is past.  There are things which I enjoyed but more that I regret.  Now, learning from the past, I must live in the present”.  And holding on to these words she found a way to live in her new future.


There was a holy man who when he decided to seek God was a single parent and had a young son.  The son was therefore brought up amongst a group of holy people who emphasised the importance of silent contemplation.  The boy was encouraged to practice it, but as he grew older he found it difficult to progress, however, with the help of his father he overcame these difficulties and found great peace in the practice.  Then as he grew into adolescence and his hormones began to develop, he found his sexuality disturbing his contemplation and asked his father if he could go and live with his mother who by now was living a stable life.  His father agreed to this but suggested before he left that he spent 48 hours in solitary retreat, with some reluctance, the young man agreed.  After a day in retreat he received a powerful vision of God’s love which overwhelmed his adolescent feelings of insecurity.  Immediately he went to his father and asked if he could continue to live with him and the holy people for he had rediscovered the peace he had known as a child.  The father quietly agreed but said to him “If you had stayed in the retreat for the full 48 hours you would have received something even greater.  To your peace you must now learn to add the harder virtues such as patience”.


Once there was a holy woman who after living a ‘colourful’ life began to seek God.  She was doing well until she happened to meet an old lover in the street near her home.  He then began to visit her, feigning interest in her new way of life but actually fascinated with the idea of seducing a holy woman.  The holy woman still felt an attraction to him and found it difficult to discern what was going on.  Then in another city a good friend of the holy woman was cleaning her home when she knocked over a vase and broke it, as she was clearing up the pieces she remembered that it had been made for her by the holy woman and she felt a strong desire to visit her.  During the coach trip she fell asleep and dreamt that a handsome man in the seat behind her was boasting to a friend how he was seducing a holy woman.  When she arrived at the holy woman’s house she shared her story with her and immediately the holy woman received back her gift of discernment.  So when her former lover came to visit her again she challenged him about his true intentions and the anger and vindictiveness in his heart spewed out in a stream of abuse.  At this point she remembered why she had separated herself from him in the first place, for while she had changed and grown he had stayed the same. 


A holy man said “Silence, tranquillity and meditation are crucial for the celibate, but they are just as important for the sexual health of a married person”.


There were once a group of seekers who lived together in a large house.  A famous teacher came to visit them with her husband but one of the seekers was attracted to the husband and they ended up having sex.  This created great disruption amongst the seekers, but they had a close relationship with a holy person who lived nearby.  She happened to have a tiny spare room and the person who caused this disruption went to live with her.  She was deeply ashamed of what she had done and for a number of years lived a very withdrawn and quiet life not mixing with the other seekers at all.  After this period of years the community of seekers began to go through problems and they had a prayer meeting in order to try and resolve their difficulties, during this time one of the members said that she had received a word from God that they should ask the ‘exile’ to come and pray for them.  Immediately they went and invited her to join them.  Everyone was amazed when she appeared in the room.  Her years of withdrawal and quietness had brought about a great change in her and she had a spirit of quiet humility which transformed the dynamics in the group.  She came back to live amongst the seekers and together they resolved their problems and continued to grow in love together.


There were two seekers who lived with a group of seekers on an outer housing estate.  They had to go into London but at one point separated and one of the seekers got lured into a strip joint in Soho.  When they came together the one who got lured into the strip joint, felt mortified and wanted to abandon his calling right there and then, but his friend said to him “I too sinned when we were separated, let us return together and seek healing and forgiveness amongst our friends”.  When they arrived home they both entered into a long period of prayer and fasting, one for his own failings, the other for the failings of his friend.  Through this the one who had fallen achieved great joy and healing.  But one of the older members of the community discerned the truth of the situation and quietly said to him “Thank you, my friend, through this I have come to understand what it is to lay down your life for a friend”.


There were another two seekers who were old friends and they lived together happily for many years but then one of them became restless saying “I am getting older and what have I experienced in my life?  I want to find a partner and have children.  I’m going to leave this way of life, it’s just weird and irrational”.  Her friend was very worried by this and didn’t know what to do so she went to speak to a holy woman who said to her “There’s not much you can do.  Bear it patiently and with kindness and you will not lose your friend.  This is the way that God is with us, patiently bearing with our waywardness”.  So she returned to her friend and said “Come on then let us find some better paid jobs, rent a new flat and see if we can find you a husband”.  So this is what the two friends did.  Then after a while the restless friend said “What is this life that most people live?  Gaining possessions, indulging their desires, trying to make themselves look attractive.  We were much better off the way we were”.  So as the holy woman had predicted they returned to their previous life.


A seeker went to speak to a holy man about two other seekers who lived together.  He accused them of being closet homosexuals.  The holy man, however, said to him “If they sleep in one bed or two separate beds why does that matter to you?  You are the one who should be repenting not them”.


Another seeker went to speak to a holy woman and said “I am having very strong sexual desires.  I just want to get laid as often as possible and with as many men as I can.  It makes me feel restless and dissatisfied”.  The holy woman said to her “This is not as uncommon as you might think.  Many people have indulged in this way and it is only after experiencing it that they realise that it wasn’t really what they wanted.  Sometimes it is only when we experience the pain associated with our desires that we are able to get things in perspective.  But it would be better if you didn’t go through this pain so try thinking about the consequences off indulging your desires – the sexually transmitted diseases, the dangerous situations you could find yourself in and the loneliness of such transitory relationships.  Maybe this could help vaccinate you against your desires”.


A seeker was talking to a holy man about sexual temptations but the holy man said that this was something which never troubled him.  The seeker thought this was ridiculous and told him so before leaving.  He went to see another holy man and told him about his encounter saying “That holy man is a fraud.  How can he not suffer from sexual temptations, we are all human beings it is only natural to have sexual desires.  To deny this is hypocrisy”.  But this other holy man said to him “You have judged him harshly without understanding why he said what he said.  He would not have said this without reason.  You should apologise to him and ask him what he meant”.  The seeker took his advice and went back to the original holy man who explain to him “I have always suffered with bulimia and so great are my struggles with food and eating healthily, that my sexual desires just seem insignificant to me”.


A young, single seeker went to speak to a holy woman and said “I am really struggling, I can’t help thinking about sex, all the time I’m thinking about it and it never gives me any rest.  What can I do?” The holy woman said to her “These thoughts come to you and it is not possible to stop them coming, but this doesn’t mean you have to act on them.  There is a story from the Old Testament when the Midianianites wanted to seduce the Israelites, they dressed up seductively but they did not force themselves upon the Israelites they had to choose whether they wanted to have sex or not.  Some did, some did not.  It was a matter of choice and it is the same with you”.  But the seeker said “I don’t want to have sex.  Not now, I know I’m not ready but my feelings seem to overwhelm me”.  “In that case” said the holy woman “your best weapon is prayer and meditation.  Use a prayer such as ‘Jesus, have mercy on me’ whenever your feelings are stirred, turn your mind quietly to these things and you will find yourself strengthened”.  “Yes, that’s all very well” said the seeker “but I have a lot of problems with this prayer thing.  I find myself analysing the words and worrying about whether I believe in them”.  The holy woman patiently replied “It is not the understanding that is important but the heart and what you do.  Turn your heart actively towards God and you will find your body strengthened.  This has always been the teaching of the holy ones from ancient days until now”.


A holy man said “People get very distressed by their sexual desires.  But, in fact, our desires are as brittle as dried leaves – if we brush them away they crumble and fade but if we pay attention to them they are like wet leaves which cling to us and send us skidding off track.”


There were once two sisters who at a young age decided to seek God, but after a few years grew restless and left the community of seekers.  They got well paid jobs, bought a flat together, found boyfriends and travelled widely, but it wasn’t too long before they became disillusioned with this lifestyle and yearned for the simplicity of their previous life.  Eventually they found the courage to return to the seekers and asked if they could to come back to the community.  The community agreed, but on the advice of a holy woman sent the two sisters on separate retreats.  After three months the sisters returned and the seekers were surprised to see how different the two sisters appeared, one was drawn and thin and tired, whilst one was radiant and lively.  When they questioned them they found out that the first one had spent the time regretting her previous life, her selfishness and the injuries she had caused to other people, whilst the second had spent the time in thanking God and looking forward to her new life.  The holy woman commented “They have followed different paths but they have arrived at the same destination”.


A holy man was unwell and he was looked after by the community of seekers, but he became worried that he was being a burden to them so he decided to go to a retreat house to recover.  But holy Moses warned him against this “You have been a member of this community for a long time, this change will disrupt you and bring you great trouble”.  But the holy man thought Moses was being ridiculous and so went anyway.  At the retreat house the holy man became quite a celebrity and there was one young woman, in particular, who enjoyed nursing him and listening to his ‘words of wisdom’.  Inevitably a relationship developed between them and the young woman became pregnant.  They married and settled down together.  A few years later the holy man brought the child to visit the community.  They welcomed him warmly but on seeing holy Moses he started crying and knelt before him saying “You saw correctly my old friend and I was deceived.  Now you live in peace and everyday I live with discontent”.


There was a holy woman who told of how on four successive days, four increasingly handsome men tried to seduce her but although sorely tempted she resisted them all.  She drew enormous strength from this and became a powerful and independent holy woman who was universally respected.


There was a seeker who badly wanted to get married.  He could not find anyone amongst the seekers but he met a woman who was an atheist and began a relationship with her.  Eventually he asked her to marry him but she said to him “You will have to give up all this religious nonsense.  I don’t want to have children and have you taking them to church every Sunday”.  The seeker thought about this and finally agreed, but she rejected him saying “You say that now but eventually you’ll find yourself getting back into religion.  It’s too deeply ingrained in you”.  This was a big shock for the seeker but he realised she spoke the truth and he returned to the seeker community.  For a while he found it difficult to reintegrate himself into their company but after a while he began to feel more at home once more.  Then he began to feel guilty for the relationship he had had and his desire to reject God.  But he shared this with his spiritual father and eventually he came to be at peace with it.  But still he was restless, longing for a relationship but believing that this was something that God denied him.  After many years he realised that in this to, he was deceiving himself and at last he came to accept his situation.  At this point a new seeker joined the group and the two quickly fell in love, marrying within the year.


There was a young boy whose father was a notorious criminal and a member of a secret drinking club called The Devils.  This was a group of young men who got together to drink, gamble and talk about their sexual conquests but once the boy eavesdropped on their conversations and heard them boasting about their latest conquests.  The first talked about having sex with a TV actress in a west end hotel but his friends were not very impressed with that, the second claimed to have had under age sex with a 15 year old friend of his daughter’s but again his friends did not think there was anything special about that, then the third bragged about a wild night of sex with three models but this was given even shorter shrift.  Finally another man gave a long and detailed account of how he had seduced a holy woman.  The friends were fascinated by this, asking long and detailed questions and showing him enormous respect.  The boy never forgot this and when he grew older he sought out the holy people, joining the seekers and in due time becoming a respected holy man himself.


There was a seeker who became addicted to erotic literature.  She talked to the community about this and they were very concerned.  They put her on a strict diet, banned her from watching television and advised a strenuous programme of vigils and prayer.  The seeker tried to fulfill this to the best of her abilities but it made her weak and prey to all kinds of minor illnesses and even while she was praying she found her mind besieged by all kinds of erotic images and stories.  Finally she became so unwell that she stayed in bed, exhausted and distressed.  A holy woman came to see her and heard her story, after listening carefully she said “I’m afraid all this is not going to do you any good, I can claim no expertise in these matters, but it is clear that all you are achieving is making yourself ill.  What I would suggest is that you eat properly, read some good books and spend time with people whose company you enjoy, but above all get a good night’s sleep and avoid these all night vigils”.  The seeker took her advice and quickly became better.  Gradually as she pursued this regime she found the erotic stories fading from her mind and she made great progress.


There was a a well-known holy man who many people came to for advice, but gradually this began to corrode his discretion and he became resentful of everything which he gave to others and thought that he deserved something in return.  He therefore began to respond to requests from the media, writing books which became bestsellers and becoming quite a personality.  He became so busy that he found it necessary to employ an agent, a gifted young woman who was serious about our own spiritual quest.  Eventually they began an affair.  Very quickly the holy man realised that he had made a big mistake and quietly, without fuss, he finished the affair, cancelled all his appointments and stopped writing.  He withdrew into complete quietness, cutting himself off from all his friends and reflecting on what had gone wrong.  After some time the holy man realise that Lent was about to start and he began a time of complete solitude and serious fasting.  Gradually as time went on he began to feel a change slowly emerging but still he kept quiet.  Then when Good Friday came he lit a candle and waited in prayer, all through holy Saturday the candle continued to burn until its light transfixed him.  The candle burnt strong and true but hardly shrunk in size until the holy man became convinced that this was a sign and on Easter morning appeared from his solitude, joining worshippers at a local church for a dawn service.  From that time on he came out of his solitude but became taciturn when asked for advice, spending long hours in quiet solitude, always keeping a candle burning in his small room.

How to overcome the worship of money

A seeker came to Holy Faith and said "I'm struggling. I have a little business making craft objects but when I go to the market to sell them I feel anxious". Faith said to her "There is nothing wrong with commerce. The holy people always felt it was best to earn your own living. Don't be competitive and don't worry if you're not making every last penny you possibly could and you will find it possible to be a trader without anxiety." The seeker said "I don't actually need to make my craft items. I have other sources of income and I could do without it. Do you think it would be okay to give up?" But Faith said to her "No, making things is important. If you can do this without becoming anxious then keep at it."

How to keep strong

A holy man said "We don't get anywhere in seeking God because we forget what is possible if we truly embrace the struggle. We lose interest in the work we have begun and want to be free before we have gone through the work and struggle which will make us free".

Why it's important not to do things for show

Holy Amanda (who lived in Ruislip) came to talk to holy Simon "I have been asked to do some preaching and I find myself wanting to really get into the commentaries so that I'll come across as being erudite and able to answer everyone's questions". He replied "Don't bother with that. It is better to speak simply, from the heart and with an unclouded imagination".

Keeping it real: why discretion is the key to the holy life

Holy Antony said "There are people who try to get close to God by fasting, there are others who think the most important thing is to lower their carbon footprint, but whatever you do if you don't have discretion then you are wasting your time".


A seeker asked Holy Antony to pray for him but Antony said to him "All the prayers in the world won't help you if you don't take responsibility for your own life and put all your effort into seeking God in the way it is right for you".


When Antony was old he was asked about the new generation of seekers and he said "As far as I can see people do not struggle with themselves in the same way we used to. I suspect this is because God knows that they are weak and could not bear real internal conflict".


The theologian Eve and the former highflyer Arnold were talking about their lives as seekers and Eve said "We've had all the advantages, education, good homes and money but it is these people who come to the way with nothing who seem to make more progress" Arnold replied "We get stuck because we are trying to work it out intellectually but our friends just simply get on with the hard work of seeking God".


Holy Arnold, who had deserted his highflying career to seek God, said "Because I rejected my old life and burnt all my bridges I had to completely commit myself to seeking God. In this way I found peace".


Mark, the seeker asked Holy Arnold. "It is best, isn't it, to try and live as simply as possible. I saw a seeker taking all his CDs and clothes down to the charity shop". Arnold replied "Yes living simply is a good thing to do but we must each find our own way. If your friend finds he misses his CDs and clothes and is unable to live without them he will buy some more".


Peter who was a friend of Lois, told this story "Once I was in the home of Agatha when a young woman came to see her and said she wanted to become a seeker but didn't know how to begin. Agatha replied 'From the very first you should remember that you are on a long journey, that there is much to learn and you will never find the answer'. To this the woman said 'Why am I never going to find the answer?' Agatha responded 'When you become confident that you have found the answer your spiritual life will become like a desert where nothing can grow and even the deep roots you have put down will not be able to sustain you'.


Daniel said this about holy Arnold "When he was dying he told us not to pray for him because he said that what mattered was the prayers he had said for himself during his life".


Agatha was well-known for her discretion and wisdom, but some people heard about this and didn't believe it so they began to spread rumors about her sexual behavior. Agatha heard about this but didn't say anything. Then they began to spread more rumors about things that Agatha had said, but although they were all untrue Agatha didn't correct them. Finally they began to say that Agatha was no longer a Christian but have become some kind of new age guru. At this point of Agatha gathered the community together and stated simply that she was still a Christian and had no desire for any other kind of religion. At this point the people asked her "Why did you response to this accusation when you ignored what we said about your sexual behavior and the things you had said?". To this Agatha replied "Those other things you said were of no concern to me, but to deny me my faith is to separate me from God and my community and so I had to put things straight". Then the people who had been accusing her saw that her reputation for discretion and wisdom was, indeed, true and they stopped their slandering and began to seek the truth which Agatha knew.


Agatha was a model holy woman. She was committed and consistent in following the way, working patiently to support herself and to nurture her spiritual life. She lived at peace with the earth and by the end of her life she was a rounded and complete person. Yet it is for a wisdom that she is most remembered. Someone asked her about the comparative importance of the physical disciplines and inner awareness, she replied by saying "Think about it like this. Imagine you are a fruit tree. Your purpose is to produce fruit -- this is the inner awareness which transforms your spirit, but in order to produce fruit the tree needs leaves so that it can receive the sun's rays -- these are the physical disciplines which enable your inner transformation. So Scripture says 'by their fruits you shall know them' but without leaves no fruit will be produced."


Once the seekers gathered together in East London for a meeting to discuss some important matters but after they had made their decision Agatha arrived. When she heard what they had done she said "You have not made a good decision", people were annoyed at this, complaining at her for being late and saying she had no right to a say in the matter. But Agatha said "My opinion is as valid as anyone's, even if I got delayed in coming to the meeting. What is important is that you should make the right decision. The question you should be asking yourself is not why I am late, or whether I have a right to an opinion on the matter but the one found in Psalm 58 'Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge people fairly?'."


Agatha said "Anger can sometimes bring people to life when they are oppressed, but if it is nurtured its long-term consequences will only be death".


Three seekers came to see holy Archibald but one of them was having a lot of problems and he was regarded as being very flaky. The first one asked him for some help with the accounts of his community project but Archibald refused. The second one asked if Archibald could come and give a talk to their community but again Archibald said no. Then the third one, who was regarded as being flaky, asked him to help him sort out his finances which were in a mess and Archibald immediately agreed. Privately the first two asked Archibald why he helped the third one after refusing them and Archibald replied. "I knew that you wouldn't mind if I said I was busy, you are well balanced enough not to be upset, but your friend is struggling and already feels judged by other people. If I had refused him it would just feel like one more rejection and it would only have compounded his problems, so I have agreed to help".


There was a seeker who had been following the way for many years. He lived an extraordinarily ascetic life eating very simply and living a very quiet, modest life. He was reported to have said that his way of life had enabled him to overcome greed and lust. Abraham heard about this and decided to go and visit him. He asked him if this was indeed what he had said in the seeker replied that he had. So Abraham asked him "Supposing you're walking along the road and you see a lingerie advertisement with a curvaceous model, do you mean to say that you don't even notice that she's half naked?" The seeker replied "Yes, of course I notice but I control my feelings and carry on". Then Abraham continued "Suppose you're walking along the road and you see a 20 pound note lying in the street, is it to you just like a piece of litter?" And the seeker replied "No, of course I realize that it is a 20 pound note that I am detached from money so I ignore it", so Abraham replied "It is as I thought. You have not overcome greed and lust but you have merely become used to keeping them under control. You are just like the rest of us".


Eve was a theologian who became a seeker, she went to a holy woman to ask her advice about seeking God. The holy woman said to her "You are a clever person who knows many things but if you wish to find God you would do well to spend your time listening and never speak until you are asked a question". Eve was powerfully struck by this remark and immediately realized that it was the right word for her. Afterwards she said "I have read many wise books but never has someone so accurately read my heart".


Eve had this advice to give people who were seeking God "If you find it hard to concentrate and your mind is always wondering reading and structured prayer is helpful. If you always find your emotions getting the better of you than there is nothing better than fasting, physical work and solitude. Anger is overcome by singing the Psalms and practicing patience and mercy. But all these practices need discernment, if they are overdone or employed at the wrong time then you will gain some temporary benefit but in the long run they will do you harm".


Some seekers once came to Zena and asked her "We have been reading the book of Job and we find it very interesting that we don't understand this verse from Job 15:15 'Heaven is not pure in God sight'". Zena realized that the problem with the seekers was not their understanding but that they had become concerned with speculations about the nature of heaven rather than their ordinary day-to-day struggles so she said "This text means that seeking God is not about being heavenly minded and that in order to be spiritual we must live our day-to-day lives in the sight of God rather than be distracted by theological speculation".


Holy Theodore of Farringdon said if a seeker gives into sexual temptation or addiction or to something else which causes other seekers to reject him and the public to see him as a hypocrite then you must come alongside him and support him. But if he starts to use the gospel to support racism or some other antihuman ideology then you can no longer stand alongside him. Also if he becomes an atheist and ridicules your faith you are still his brother but he has separated himself from you.


Theodore once went to see John who had had a sex change. They got talking about bodies and how they impacted on their spirituality and Theodore said "When I was living in East London I was very spiritually minded and didn't really pay attention to my body, but now I play close attention to my body and it is this that has enabled me to make real spiritual progress".


A seeker once came to see Theodore to talk about some seekers who had stopped following the Way and gone back to their ordinary lives. He was distressed about this and was questioning his own vocation. Theodore said to him "Do not be surprised about this. It is to be expected. What I find really surprising is when people do decide to give up their comfortable, materialistic way of life and seek God. When people try to live in a different way that gives me hope".


Theodore also said "The reason many people begin the journey but give up is that they expect to achieve peace through their own efforts rather than wait to receive it as a gift from God"


Holy John lived with another seeker but said to him one day "This life that we live is full of rules and regulations and it is not giving me enough freedom. I am going to give it up and live on the streets, it is there that I will find God". So John left the community and lived on the streets for a month but then he came back to his old house and rang the doorbell. His brother looked through the eye hole and saw that it was John so he turned around and went back inside. But John continued to ring the doorbell and shouted through the letterbox "Let me in, let me in its me John. I have come back" but his brother replied "No it cannot be John he has left behind all the rules and regulations of this place to find freedom and God on the streets". When John heard this he became quiet and curled up to sleep on the doorstep. In the morning his brother opened the door and said to him "If you are to live here you must work for a living and agree to live by the rules we have all agreed". John quietly nodded his head and was welcomed back into the community.


Holy John, however, learnt from this experience as is illustrated by this story which occurred a little while later. He was on a visit to the holy people of East London, he was by far the youngest person on the visit but it was thought he might benefit from the experience. The catering, however, went awry and there was not enough food for the visitors. One of the oldest members of the East London community offered the visitors his pie but they all refused except John who welcomed it cheerfully and ate it with relish. Afterwards the others castigated John for what he had done but John said "The old man was mortified at there not being enough food so I thought it best to accept his offer, and, anyway, he was so happy that I enjoyed the food that I'm sure it was the right decision". At this the others recognized John's wisdom and began to pay attention to what he said and did, recognizing that his instinctive response to life was often more holy than their ponderous discussions.


There was a beloved holy woman who everyone knew as Mother. When she was young she went to see her friend Joseph, a very well respected holy man, to ask him a question: "When I feel tempted should I resist the temptations and keep them out of my mind or think about them so that I can understand where they are coming from?" Joseph replied "Yes, certainly, consider them carefully and you will overcome them". It so happened that someone else had asked Joseph exactly the same question but the answer he had received was exactly the opposite -- he had been told to keep the temptations out of his mind. Mother heard about this and immediately went to see Joseph and said "You are confusing me, you said I should examine my temptations, but to other people you are saying exactly the opposite. I don't know what to make of this and whether I can trust you with my heart". Joseph replied "Some people need to resist temptation, but I have found for myself that if I examine my temptations and struggle with them in my heart then I am able to overcome them and through this I become stronger. If you wish to follow in my way then you must do the same and, indeed, I believe you will".


Mother also told this story about holy Joseph, when he was old and couldn't get about. Where he lived there was a beautiful Mulberry tree which was heavy with fruit. She happened to be going to a wedding nearby and so dropped in to see him. When Joseph saw her he asked her to pick some mulberries for him, mother wanted to do what he asked but was worried about staining her new wedding dress so she hesitated and said "I am sorry Joseph I am unsure what to do. I want to help you but I am worried about staining my dress and not being presentable for the wedding. You know how messy the mulberries are so I don't understand why you're asking me to do this". Joseph said to her "Do not worry. You like to think of yourself as my disciple but I wanted to see whether you would be honest with me or just do something because I told you to. Now I can see that you will be honest with me so I am happy to have you as a friend".


As the years passed Mother became a well-known spiritual counselor and all kinds of people came to ask her advice. One was a serious young man who was a member of a community he said "I am not happy and I want to leave the community", Mother asked him why and he said "I have heard a story about one of the community members which disturbs me", so Mother asked "Yes, but is this story true" and he replied "Yes, certainly the people who told me this story are very reliable". "That is all very well" said Mother "but God does not rely on stories he only judges on the basis of what he sees for Himself". Then the young man said "It is not just the stories, I have also seen and heard things which bother me. This man makes me feel uncomfortable and I don't want to be part of a community with him". Mother thought about this then said "Do you see this piece of thread? His sin is like this" then she went into a back room and brought out a thick piece of rope and said "but your sins are like this piece of rope with many threads bound together, for you have listened to many stories about him and you have become his judge". Then the young man, who was called Simon, said "Thank you Mother, your words are precious for they have enabled me to see clearly".


Once some clergy people came to visit Mother's community. Annabelle, one of Mother's friends went out to greet them and then came back into the community room where Mother was sitting and said "Let's ask them to stay for lunch and have fellowship with them". But Mother carried on with her knitting and said nothing, so sadly Annabelle went out and told the visitors that Mother was not available then she went back into Mother and said "Why did you not invite him in?" and Mother replied "Why do I need more people to talk to? Have I got anything important to say? Am I a person of any significance? I am trying to die to such things".


A seeker came to talk to Mother and said "I have done a bad thing and caused great harm. I want to give three years of my life to voluntary work, give 100,000 to a suitable charity and then spend 40 days in retreat. Do you think this will be adequate?". Mother said "Three years is a very long time", so the seeker said, "So would the 100,000 be adequate?" To which Mother said "100,000 pounds is a lot of money" So again the seeker said "So you do you just recommend that I go on retreat?" And Mother replied "Whatever you do will have some benefit, but as far as you are concerned it is the sincerity of your heart which is most important".


Isaiah and Amanda asked Mother about thoughts and feelings they had which they didn't want and make them feel unclean. To Isaiah, who was a soldier, she said "A gun can only harm someone when it is picked up and fired" and to Amanda, who sold fruit and vegetables at the market, she said "If you forget about some fruit and it remains hidden in a corner it will rot away and disappear. It is the same with these thoughts and feelings if you do not act on them they also disappear".


Joseph once asked Mother "What you think about fasting? Is it still a helpful spiritual discipline?". Mother replied "What I find best is to eat a little less than you want". Then Joseph said but when you're young you were famous for your fasting. Didn't you once fast for a month? "Yes that is right" said Mother "but the holy people have had much experience in these things and they have found that it is best to eat every day, but occasionally restrict yourself. The Way is not meant to be heavy but easy and light and life giving".


Mother once said "If you live somewhere and find the people there don't listen to you and always resist your ideas move somewhere else. The aggravation you experience will prevent you making spiritual progress".


A seeker once came to see Mother and said "I have won a 1000 pounds on the lottery and I would like to throw a party for all the brothers and sisters, is that okay?" Mother looked at him and said "That is all right. Go ahead and make your preparations". Annabelle, however, overheard this conversation and a little while later said "I was amazed that you said it was okay for this party to go ahead with money from gambling" to which Mother replied "Yes, you are right, I should not have condoned gambling". So the two of them went to see the seeker. The party had already been prepared and everyone had been invited but Mother said "Really buying lottery tickets is not compatible with being a seeker". The seeker was devastated and felt really guilty but nevertheless went ahead. Afterwards Annabelle said "I feel guilty now. He was so excited by the party but now he is sad" and Mother replied "Yes, I tried to respond to his need as it was but your intervention meant I had to say the right thing. Nonetheless, for the time being, he will continue to buy lottery tickets".


Mother said “If someone does something wrong but denies it, there is no point in calling them a sinner, they will simply become resistant and never change. But if you say to them ‘don’t beat yourself up about it but be careful about it in the future’ you will be giving them space to change and move on”

How to live the good life

Holy Arnold said "Within the limits of your circumstances, nature and resources give everything you have to the task that God has placed in the deepest roots of your heart. This is the only way to overcome the frailties and limitations of the body and its confused feelings. This is the deep inner quest for God and what God has placed in our hearts. This is the secret image of God which is longing to be revealed and reunited with its source. If you do a wholeheartedly and humbly follow this way you will encounter God and discover your chew nature, then if you sincerely a modestly hold onto this God and what is revealed to you, God will never leave you."