Obsculta! Wise Elders and the Desert Tradition

Laura Swan, O.S.B.

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I come here as a student of the desert.1 My time with the desert ascetics has been a type of novitiate. As many of us recognize within our own life stories, just as we have liturgical seasons of the Church so there are formation seasons in our spiritual journey. And many of us return to the novitiate over and over again!

To be human is to be in a process of spiritual formation. Failure to recognize the call, enticement and demands of our spiritual formation usually leads to anger, confusion, anguish and despair, and continued alienation from self. Recognition of our varied seasons of formation helps us make sense of where we are at and what is asked of us in this process of our sacred journey.

While I will be sharing some of my novitiate season with you, I want to acknowledge up front that there is no one "desert tradition." I suspect our monastic tradition of non-conformity began in the desert. Every ascetic, every grouping of ascetics and cultural regions of ascetics during the many seasons of the early and emerging Church had there own unique expressions of the desert tradition. Some traditions were healthy and some were not. I am sharing my reflections based on my own journey and in listening to contemporary people grappling with their own experiences of desert and how the desert ascetics have helped them in their journey.


Wise Elders

The Desert Tradition of Mentoring

The Desert Way

The Goal of Mentoring

1Much of this talk is adapted from Laura Swan, O.S.B., The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press 2001). return

© 2003 by The American Benedictine Academy / www.osb.org/aba/