During the fourth and fifth centuries, the workshops for Christian monasticism were in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. Many of these desert communities emphasized drawing closer to God through silence, solitude, and prayer. These monks and hermits were spiritual athletes who practiced fasting, renunciation, and other forms of asceticism.

Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine Oblate and author of five books including The Artist's Rule, has annotated and explained the early Christian wisdom sayings of the desert fathers and mothers in this paperback in the Skylight Illumination series.

In her absolutely brilliant introduction to the desert fathers and mothers, Paintner does a wonderful job explaining the desert as a place of deep encounter; the significant figures in this monastic tradition; the spiritual importance of the cell and the heart; the value of surrender and humility in relationship to the unceasing presence of God; and the challenges of viewing the wisdom sayings of the desert fathers and mothers as Zen koans — "texts to be pondered and chewed on slowly and then integrated into your life."

Paintner has divided these early Christian wisdom sayings, translated by Sister Benedicta Ward, into thematic sections:

• Give Me a Word
• Your Cell Will Teach You Everything
• Heart-Centered Spirituality
• Thoughts, Desires, and Passions
• Humility, Simplicity, and the Beginner's Heart
• Spiritual Elders and Soul Friends
• Tears of Compunction
• The Necessity of Practice
• Virtues, Charity, and the Service of Love
• Solitude, Silence, and Hesychia
• Three Essential Things
• Prayer and Differing Gifts
• How to Become a Monk

In her engrossing commentaries on these sayings, Paintner shares how they have influenced her life, such as her listening for a word from the world of nature; her adoration of trees and their connection with saints; her role as an urban monk; her frighteningly close encounter with death; her love of books and her sense of the shadow side of them; and the need to be very honest with herself as a teacher, writer, and spiritual director.

This is one of the brightest and best resources on the desert fathers and mothers.