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Into the Desert: Urgent Words for Apocalyptic Times, No. 1

Edited by Robert V. Rakestraw

“The question with which I started this exploration of desert spirituality and contemporary ministry was: ‘How can we minister in an apocalyptic situation?’ In a period of history dominated by the growing fear of a war that cannot be won and an increasing sense of impotence, the question of ministry is very urgent. …

“But does not this spirituality of the desert close our eyes to the cruel realities of our time? No. On the contrary, solitude, silence, and prayer allow us to save ourselves and others from the shipwreck of our self-destructive society. The temptation is to go mad with those who are mad and to go around yelling and screaming, telling everyone where to go, what to do, and how to behave. The temptation is to become so involved in the agonies and ecstasies of the last days that we will drown together with those we are trying to save. …

“By their solitude, silence, and unceasing prayer the Desert Fathers show us the way. These disciplines will teach us to stand firm, to speak words of salvation, and to approach the new millennium with hope, courage, and confidence. …

“Let me conclude with one more desert story [from Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Mowbrays, 1975), p. 6].

Three Fathers used to go and visit blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him: ‘You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,’ and the other replied, ‘It is enough to see you, Father.’

“This story is a fit ending to this book. By the time people feel that just seeing us is ministry, words such as these will no longer be necessary.”

From Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (Random House, 1981, pp. 75-78).

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