Fourth- and fifth-century desert mothers in the Mediterranean region, known as ammas (spiritual mothers), were the founders of Christian community in the early church. Praying with the Desert Mothers introduces the lives, sayings, and stories of these remarkable spiritual elders. It enriches readers’ lives and compels them to return in meditation and prayer. For each topic a true story is drawn from a modern person’s experience of seeking God. This tapestry of stories of the desert ammas is woven together with theological insights, discussion of genres of literature, historical views on women, and reflective approaches to the wisdom tradition.
Praying with the Desert Mothers combines scholarship and reflection for praying, meditating, and living the wisdom of spiritual practices today. Chapters are Introduction to the Desert Mothers, Ammas as Midwives of Wisdom, Ammas as Scripture Scholars, Heralds in the Desert, Desert as Idyllic Garden, The Pearl of Great Price, Humility and the Manifestation of Thoughts, Penthos and Tears’Signs of Conversion, The Hidden Life, Prayer and Hospitality; and concludes with The Visitation and a complete bibliography on the desert ammas.
Mary Forman, OSB, PhD, a Benedictine from the Monastery of Saint Gertrude, Cottonwood, Idaho, is assistant professor of theology at the School of Theology, Seminary and the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Modern readers will enjoy getting acquainted with wise and holy ammas such as Sarah, Theodora, Syncletica, Melania, and others. An extensive bibliography is included for those interested in further exploration of this fascinating and largely neglected part of our spiritual heritage.
It would work well for a personal retreat, a series of group prayer meetings, or just for an individual to engage with this rich and colorful spirituality in a way that is both informative and inspiring.
This wonderful book is unique among the many explorations of desert spirituality being published in our time. Mary Forman's introductory remarks, stories and commentary, contemporary examples and reflection exercises in each chapter, are born as always out of her impeccable scholarship. Her personal witness to the contemporary relevance of the female desert tradition makes this book a very special contribution toward a Christian spirituality for the twenty-first century.
Ephrem Hollermann, OSB, Saint Benedict's Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota
I would be grateful for this book if it simply provided insight into the neglected world of the desert mothers. But in this appealing blend of scholarship and personal narrative, Mary Forman has done much more. By incorporating her own lived experience in a Benedictine community, she has brought these ancient monastic women to life, and allowed the reader to see how their profound spiritual wisdom might apply to life today.
The author interprets for us both what is said and what is hidden in layers of patriarchal and cultural perspectives. She has an outstanding command of the language of story and the anecdotes of desert spirituality. She gets to the heart of the meanings for us today and invites us to enter into these stories, letting them stand in their authenticity without imposing on them our contemporary overlays of psychology, sociology, theology, and spirituality.
In the context of lectio, prayerful pondering of a world of wisdom deep in one's heart, Mary confidently takes her readers into the desert and introduces us to her 'friends.' I highly recommend this to all looking for a lectio source, or a tool to deepen an experience of lecio as a form of prayer.
St. Placid Priory
In Praying with the Desert Mothers Sr. Mary Forman has spread a rich table before us. She invites us to taste and savor the rich fare offered by the lives and wisdom of the ascetic women of the early church. She gathers and interprets what they tell us about fundamental spiritual qualities and activities like humility, asceticism, temptation, prayer, compunction and spiritual direction. The main course of their stories and teaching is garnished with accounts of remarkable religious women whom Sr. Mary has known. For dessert we have guidelines for meditation and bible reading.
Fr. Hugh Feiss
With bible passages, stories, contemporary examples, and reflection exercises, Forman shows us how to incorporate practices of the desert mothers into our own lives.
Carol Blank, Writing Works
Mary Forman is an outstanding teacher. She has honed the skill she exhibits in this precious book by teaching both undergraduate and graduate students for many years.
This book is an excellent read for all pastors, male or female, because it invites us into the desert with the ammas, into their Wisdom, and to explore our own faith by daring to be contemplative.
Prudence T. Wood, Trinity Seminary Review
This book is a very interesting and stimulating source not only for learning about a part of the history of the church which has been little emphasized, but also as a source for promoting the continuing value of the work of the ancient ammas for spiritual guidance in a modern world.
One thing that I especially like about this book is its profound reflection on lived experience. Mary Forman is able to go back into her long experience in her monastery (Saint Gertrude's, Idaho) and pull up fascinating and moving examples of modern ammas in out Benedictine convents. I think she shows clearly enough that the days of the Desert Mothers are by no means over.
Cistercian Studies Quarterly
Using images of spirit, desert and hospitality, Forman leads us into prayerful contemplation of early Christian spiritual wisdom. Her book is a great introduction to feminine desert wisdom, and a wonderful reflection tool as well.
Catholic Library World
. . . many will find this resource a valuable source of inspiration and prayerful reflection on women's faithful lives, both ancient and modern. It is a text that could well be used for classroom use in Christian spirituality, in the history of early Christianity, and in the dynamics of Christian prayer. The faith, especially of these ancient and courageous desert women, inspires admiration and at times awe. That Forman has provided a way for ordinary Christians to reclaim their stories and to embrace them in prayer is a great service.
New Theology Review
Forman's scholarly and insightful text introduces readers to the rich heritage of the Lives and Sayings of fourth and fifth century ammas, "spiritual mothers," who were instrumental in establishing early Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean region. The author skillfully leads the reader through an understanding of the ammas' Stories and Sayings in a way that invites the reader through an understanding of the ammas' Stories and Sayings in a way that invites the reader to prayer, meditation and reflection on the practical application of ways of the ammas' true wisdom into contemporary Christians a fuller understanding of ways in which individuals and groups throughout the ages were truly seeking God, and how their insights can still inspire and teach us today.
Rosemary Rader, O.S.B., Oakdale, MN
This little gem of a book delivers all that it promises, and considerably more. . . . The author writes clearly and concisely, making it easy to concentrate on the text and ideas. This little volume would serve nicely both for spiritual reading and for an introduction to the spirituality of Early Christian women ascetics.
American Benedictine Review