Laura Swan is prioress of Saint Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington. In this long needed and incredibly insightful resource, she retrieves the lives, stories, and sayings of the desert mothers, or ammas dating from the third century. Many of these women found a place of freedom and leadership in monasteries that they could never have achieved in the dominant chauvinistic culture of their times. Yet it was never their goal to stand out but rather to diminish themselves in their inner journey to unity with God.

Swan has rendered us all an invaluable service by delineating the desert tradition as practiced by the ammas. They lived in simplicity so that all their focus of attention was on God. The desert with its intensity and emptiness aided them in that task. They cherished silence and solitude but were always hospitable to strangers who appeared at their doors. They practiced deep listening, staying alert to divine promptings from within.

In a collection of their sayings, we learn of the wisdom of Ammas Matrona, Sarah, Syncletica, and Theodora, who offer keen insights into spiritual practices that can deepen and enrich our lives today. Swan suggests that these women from ancient times can become our spiritual guides and directors. They tutor us in cultivating attentiveness to the Divine in the desert places of our lives. We face many of the same obstacles they did — the false self, attacks on our self-worth, anger, discouragement, distraction, and unhelpful attitudes and motives. The spiritual path of the heart opening to God is depicted on these pages as a vibrant option not only for traditional Christians but for seekers of all stripes.