By Bren Dubay
March 2022

“Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.”

Richard Baxter, Reformed Pastor

What are you reading these days? Of what does your reading make you think? 

Study is one of Koinonia’s five pillars — prayer, work, study, service, and fellowship.  We study many subjects from agriculture to Scripture, from soil biology to current events (immigration, poverty, care of the earth, etc.), from prayer to history and so forth. All of it is important but it is the spiritual reading that keeps us centered and grounded. It is the soil from which our souls grow.

Our internship study is a bit more structured than our member study but, as members, we try to devote time to daily spiritual reading. I love Early Church History from the Acts of the Apostles to 313 CE when Constantine legalized Christianity. Beyond that, too, but those early days are so full of effort, learning, and love. They were the people, in time, closest to the Incarnation. They knew Christ personally or they knew the Apostles or the people who knew the Apostles. Recently, I have circled back to the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

At first, men and women moved to the desert following the example of Christ — to pray and to fast. There are stories about how many of them also faced something (someone) similar to what (who) Christ faced. The “confuser,” the “liar,” the “tempter,” the “deceiver” was everywhere, is everywhere. After Constantine made Christianity legal, and the Roman Empire began to crumble, more than a few followers of Jesus became more ardent followers of the world and its vices than of Christ. During this time, men and women went to the desert to keep the fire in their bellies for Christ more than for Caesar.  

People flocked to the Desert Fathers and Mothers for spiritual guidance. Their advice—called sayings—was initially passed down orally. At least 1,200 of these sayings were eventually written down. So, here are a few that have caught my attention as I have read through them again recently. I hope they teach, guide, inspire, and give you a wealth of thinking to do. They have a way of working on and for us.

The heights of humility are great, and so are the depths of boasting; I advise you to attend to the first and not to fall into the second.

An elder said, ‘This is the life of the [Christian]: work, obedience, meditation, not judging, not backbiting, not grumbling.

The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible, knowing no satiety; it drives the soul that it controls to the heights of evil. Therefore, let us drive it away vigorously from the beginning. For once it has become master, it cannot be overcome.

These three things God requires of all the baptized: right faith in the heart, truth on the tongue, and temperance in the body.

Our life is to have nothing to do with that which is unjust, not to be a busybody, not to listen to other folks’ affairs, to give rather than to take away with one’s hands, not to have pride in one’s heart nor wicked thoughts in one’s mind nor to fill one’s belly, but rather to act with discretion in all things.

It is good to live in peace, for the wise person practices perpetual prayer.

The entire life of humankind is but one single day for those who are working hard with longing.

A time is coming when people will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack her, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’

Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what she is going to make from it. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or we labor in vain.

I no longer fear God, but I love him. For love casts out fear.

Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.

We get up. We fall down. We get up again.

So true. 

Good reading. They remind us that we are not alone in our struggles. Much of what plagues us today, our brothers and sisters in the desert wrestled with all those years ago. I am bolstered by a sense of solidarity when reading thoughts of those who came before us. I am encouraged. I appreciate the sound advice. I hope you are lifted, perhaps challenged by or moved to mull what they have to say, too. Join Koinonia in doing a bit of spiritual reading every day?