Category Archives: Desert Wisdom

Desert Wisdom: Audible Prayer

If you have been to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, you will be able to connect with today’s post.  As you stand there, you can detect a kind of murmuring–a whispering of prayer. The early Christians usually prayed like that—in … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: We Pray to be Converted (2)

In praying prayers to be converted, the early Christians found it natural to pray to Jesus.  Some even today still find this bothersome, wondering if we should pray to him, or simply say, “Dear God.” Bunge explores this practice and … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: We Pray to be Converted (1)

Last week, we noted that the early Christians prayed briefly and simply, lest they fell into the trap of thinking that the genuineness of their prayers was based on the “word count” of them. But Bunge quickly notes (pp. 117ff) … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Short and Sweet

Saint Augustine wrote that the early Christians believed prayers are to be “extremely short and hurled like spears.”  Bunge explores this on pp 113-120. Many of these prayers were Scripture verses—e.g. “I will fear no evil, for you are at … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: A Life of Prayer

Buge brings this section of his book (pp 105-112) to an end by reminding us that prayer is a life, not merely a time. Clement of Alexandria wrote that the true Christian is one whose “whole life is a prayer” … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Personalizing Our Prayers

The early Christians understood there is no one-size-fits-all prayer pattern. The time, location, and form of our prayer arises in relation to the circumstances of our life.  Bunge writes about this on pp 110-112. Fixed times of prayer arise from … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: “Tecnique” in Unceasing Prayer

If our call is to “pray without ceasing” (always and everywhere), it may seem odd or antithetical to speak of any technique.  But the early Christians realized that there was a connection between Mystery and method; that the two do … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: No Particular Quantity

I grow fonder of the early Christians as I read more about them and read more of their actual writings.  Far from being “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good,” they rather reveal an earthiness and a desire to … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Unceasing Prayer (2)

I was all set to move ahead with Bunge’s material when a reading from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey (January 14) caught my attention.  He added a piece of insight which I want to pass on to you. We … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Unceasing Prayer

We are never nearer to the disposition of prayer in general or to the mindset of the early Christians in particular than when connect with St. Paul’s words, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Bunge turns to an extended treatment … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: The “Water” of Humility

The early Christians did not believe tears ceased when repentance occurs (p. 102).  They continue to flow, but now from a different source.  They do not come from the pool of sin, but from the Headwaters of humility, which God … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: The “Water” of Repentance

Bunge returns to the overarching theme of this section in his book—the gift of tears.  If the desert is the place where true repentance occurs, then part of God’s “water” to revive our souls is the tears we shed in … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: The Inevitable “Desert”

Bunge rightly notes that we do not instinctively move toward repentance.  Our egocentrism (fallen soul) tries to escape conviction.  One way the ancients described it was speaking of “going into the desert.” Evagrius used these additional words to describe it:  … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Where Prayer Begins

Ask the early Christians where prayer begins, and they will almost always say, “in repentance.”  Bunge turns to this on page 99. This emphasis is related to the post a couple of weeks ago where we noted that the first … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Praying With Tears

Bunge notes that a heart properly disposed to God will be easily moved to tears (p. 97).  There are several reasons for this. First, tears are a sign of great love.  Remember the times when you have crossed paths with … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: The Manner of Our Praying

While the establishment of places and times for prayer is important, the more-important reality is the disposition with which we enter into prayer.  Bunge turns to this in Chapter Three of his book. He rightly notes that the establishment of … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Fasting (4)

Bunge treats a third reason for fasting: the spiritual purpose (p. 94). Citing Evagrius again, he points out that fasting makes the soul like a high-flying eagle—a soaring soul that rises above the lethargy of gluttony.  Like a cleaned mirror, … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Fasting (3)

Bunge examines briefly a second reason for fasting—its practical significance (p. 93). He uses a quotation from Evagrius, which essentially says that a full stomach will make us dull and drowsy, and thus unmoved to pray—whereas  a “famished stomach” will … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Fasting (2)

Once we have the historical grasp of fasting in place, Bunge says we must turn to understanding the purposes of fasting.  He selects three, and we’ll use this week’s post plus the next two to explore them…. First, we fast … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Fasting (1)

Bunge moves from examining the times for prayer to the theme of fasting and prayer—an often-combined emphasis in early Christianity—a combination noted in the Bible itself.  We will spend several blogs on this connection. As with prayer, Jesus and the … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Removal of Distractions

Bunge closes out his section on Night Prayer with comments on this time as a means of getting away from distractions. When the Spirit spoke to Arsenius with three instructions (flee, be silent, and pray), he took the exhortation literally … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Eschatology

Bunge moves on to show that Night Prayer also had a connection to eschatology. Tertullian called it waiting attentively for the angel’s trumpet.  Night Prayer was one of the ways the early church trained itself to look for the return … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Vigil

The first element Bunge deals with relative to Night Prayer is “vigil.” Early Christians chose the night for keeping vigil, because they felt it was the period of the day least susceptible to distraction and interruption.  It was in the … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Night Prayer

Bunge turns next to night prayer.  We’ll spend a little time on this, first of all because in the kind of world we live in today, we may have to accept the principles while altering the pattern. Let’s understand right … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Weariness

I am so glad that Bunge included this section in his book.  He rightly shows that even the most-devoted people of prayer undergo periods of profound weariness.  He writes, “Nevertheless, as with any art, from time to time there are … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Continual Prayer

Fixed times of prayer are the “marker points” which bring us back to attentiveness to God, and which train us toward an increase of unceasing prayer—the ultimate goal for any plan or program of prayer. Bunge rightly notes that the … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Times of Prayer (3)

Bunge notes that a full-blown pattern of fixed prayer arose in relation to the psalmist’s declaration, “seven times a day I will praise thee” (Psalm 119:164). We have explored five such times:  morning prayer, 9 a.m. (Terce), Noon (Sext), 3:00 … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Times of Prayer (2)

In addition to the pattern of creation (evening and morning), early-Christian praying also followed the passion of Christ. The fixed prayer times which have come to be called Terce, Sext, and None are in relation to Christ’s words from the … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Times for Prayer (1)

I’m reading Basil Pennington’s book Challenges in Prayer.  In it he says that the greatest challenge in cultivating a life of prayer is time itself.  The stewardship of time is the basis for so much that emerges in and flows … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: “Easting” (3)

The practice of turning toward the East is also a way of reminding ourselves that our commitment to live our lives in Christ is a new orientation.  We are turning from the darkness and turning toward the dawn. It is … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: “Easting” (2)

Facing east when praying is also a symbol of our salvation history.  Bunge notes that “the East” symbolized Paradise (p. 60)—our original home. When facing east, the early Christians were personifying their faith that through Christ, we are delivered from … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: “Easting”

After dealing with the matter of praying “in your room in secret,” Bunge writes a comparatively long section on the early-Christian practice of facing East when praying.  For those of us who have grown up in a more free-church tradition, … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Praying “In Secret” (2)

Before moving on from “praying in secret,” Bunge notes one final thing about this kind of praying.  It is the preservation of sacred meeting ground between God and us (p. 57). Many of our blessings are mediated through third-party experiences.  … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Praying “In Secret”

The “room” of prayer (whether literal or figurative) is intended to facilitate Jesus admonition for us to “pray in secret” (Matthew 6:6). Bunge points out that praying “in secret” is not simply to avoid pride, but also a practical way … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Prayer Space

Any place can be a place of prayer (1 Timothy 2:8).  Jesus shows this in his own prayer life, and it is further confirmed in the rest of the New Testament. But the early Christians also believed it was important … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Places and Times

After beginning his book with a rather “spiritual” view of prayer (psalms, prayers, meditations, etc), Bunge turns to the “physical” dimensions.  Because we are human beings with bodies, our praying is always in relation to certain physical aspects.  Chapter Two … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Meditation

Bunge rightly deals with meditation at this stage of his presentation (pp. 44-47).  Meditation is the single word most often used to describes our response to God during our time of prayer. Literally, meditation is speaking in a hushed undertone, … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Prayer as Dialog

The early distinction between the psalms (God’s word to us) and prayer (our word to God) establishes the fact that prayer is dialog.  When we pray, we are in holy conversation with God.  Clement of Alexandria defined prayer as “dialog … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Psalms and Prayer

We look at a third pairing of terms—this time, psalms and prayers. Today, we often speak of “praying the psalms,” or we refer to the psalms as “the prayer book of the Bible.”  But the early Christians did not blend … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Grace and Response

Another issue faced by the early Christians was the relationship between God’s grace and human response.  As with contemplation and practice, the early Christians sought to keep the together, forming a dynamic unity. For them, God’s grace is always primary, … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Action and Contemplation

The attempt to rank practice (praktikos) and contemplation (theoretikos) is an ancient debate.  Bunge shows how the two became conjoined in early Christianity. Evagrius preferred contemplation because it was the “observation point” from which the rest of life is seen.  … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Restoring the Missing Person

Bunge believes that one of the principal values of studying early-Christian prayer is that it will lead us to the recovery of “the missing Person”—the Holy Spirit.  Bunge believes that the Spirit has been lost in some circles in Western … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Prayer and Spirituality

Bunge rightly points out that prayer is “the most noble expression of the spiritual life” (p. 27). This is because the essence of the Christian life is the cultivation of a relationship between ourselves and God.  And prayer is the name … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Continuity and Identity

My choice to blog each week in relation to early Christianity is deliberate, and I assume it will remain a regular feature of Oboedire.  I simply cannot imagine trying to provide solid spiritual formation without remaining connected to this foundational … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Prayer as Receptivity

We connect ourselves to tradition in learning to pray because we understand that prayer (like everything else in the spiritual life) is “gift.”  The wisdom of the early Christian fathers and mothers has been preserved by the Holy Spirit specifically … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: A Very Good Place to Start

In the movie, The Sound of Music, the song “Do-Re-Mi” contains this phrase:  “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” The apostle John agreed when, much earlier, he began his first letter with these words,”That … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: The Great Reverse

Following his Introduction, Bunge formally begins his book with these words from Luke, “No one after drinking old wine desires new….” (5:39). Immediately,  we are plunged into “the great reverse” of the spiritual life.  It is the conviction that “the … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: “Let us Pray…”

Before there was a theology of prayer, there was a prayer:  the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, before there was a Creed, there was a prayer.  It was Thomas Merton who first pointed me to the fact that the first theological … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Prayer as ‘Practiced’

If you’ve been reading Oboedire for a while, you’ve noted my reference to “sapiential theology”—theology which includes both belief and practice, set in the context of our larger search for God. Before we leave Bunge’s introduction, we have been brought … Continue reading

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Desert Wisdom: Early-Christian Prayer

Well, we begin a new “chapter” in our exploration of early-Christian spirituality, turning our attention to the practice of prayer according to the patristic tradition.  Just a reminder that we will be using Gabriel Bunge’s book, Earthen Vessels as a … Continue reading

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