Carmelite Spirituality - Desert Spirituality

Desert Spirituality

Desert spirituality is a way of seeking God that is characterized by the "desert theology" of the Old Testament that is at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition, namely God keeping his People wandering for 40 years in the desert, and also throughout the subsequent centuries repeatedly calling them into the desert, as a testing ground where they may experience a change of heart and, by proving themselves obedient to his ordering of human living, accept him their Creator again as their Lord.

In New Testament times it is likewise for the reason of proving his obedience that Jesus of Nazareth underwent testing in the desert (cf. Matthew 4:1-11 = Mark 1:12-13 = Luke 4:1-13).

The Christian eremitic vocation has the same purpose, as the name hermit applied to those that embrace it indicates.

Among those most widely known for living a desert spirituality during the early Christian centuries is St Anthony of Egypt (251-356). He lived as a hermit for ten years, practiced asceticism for his whole life, and grew his own food for sustenance.

From the life of someone alone being dedicated to seeking God in the desert, which is the earliest form of Christian monasticism, the monastic life in community has emerged, although the eremitic vocation continues as a distinct way of seeking God even today.

In practical terms this spiritual quest is pursued through prayer in solitude and asceticism.

Some adherents of desert spirituality – whether as eremitic or cenobitic monastics, or as Christian faithful outside the religious life – practise centering prayer. Though seriously disputed as anachronistic and of modern, Eastern origin, this practice is in truth prominent in Catholic practice (at least) as early as the 13th century, as evinced by works such as The Cloud of Unknowing - written anonymously in Middle English by a Catholic monastic. This is meditation on a single, sacred word that is meant to draw the believer closer to God by withdrawing compulsive infatuation with particular sensory objects and conceptual constructions

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