The term "desert mothers" refers to a bold group of Christian women in the fourth century who lived in the wilderness areas of Egypt and the Holy Land where they gave themselves over to a life of prayer and service. The mothers, or ammas as they were called, carefully nourished the love of God through the regular practice of silence, solitude, and stillness. At the same time, they shared their spiritual journey with others. Episcopal writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader Mary C. Earle presents a rounded and revealing portrait of these women and the relevance of their practices and wisdom to our present times.
The author begins by noting that the desert mothers saw the sin of forgetting as the source of all our troubles. When we forget that God is the creator of all life and everything that happens to us, we lose a sense of our own sacredness and that of creation as well. Earle looks at the most important spiritual practices of the ammas including not judging, seeing the daily world as a spiritual teacher, learning the art of discernment, making the most of spiritual guidance, being humble, showing up daily, and living a dedicated life.
The desert mothers model a rich spiritual life for us with their appreciation of quiet and solitude, their call to balance and moderation, and their emphasis on the importance of virtues in everyday life. Earle concludes: "In short, praying with the desert mothers calls us to be open to conversion, so that deep transformation that can only be accomplished by the activity of the living God moving and dwelling within us, working silently, surely, secretly to make us new. They remind us to trust in a Presence that was there long before we were born and will continue long after we are dead and gone. They pull us out of our illusory concerns and teach us to shift our gaze, to deepen our breath, to stop our moving."