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I use this book often for daily meditation, as a prelude to reading scripture. Though the stories and sayings are extreme, I think they are hyperbole to emphasize the point the wisdom fathers are trying to communicate, perhaps better stated as silence than by words. The Desert Fathers were not of the Western World mindset, and they predate the Enlightenment Period by a millenium. As the Prelude eloquently states, the historical context is important because the Desert Fathers did not have dogma or a Baltimore Catechism to answer all their questions. And this is a good thing, because by bare simplicity the stories convey the extreme spirit and mindset one may need to overcome complex obstacles brought by the human condition and sin.
Thankfully, today we have broader definitions through theology and psychology to communicate our experiences, but as the Desert Fathers indicate, words themselves can bind us from growth. That being said, perhaps Thomas Merton's intention was to use these stories as a Christian koan by which to approach thought with mystery so the brain can ease into contemplative prayer and silence. Not to assume Fr. Merton's intentions, I do believe this book will find a home with kindred spirits on a similar single-minded path toward a deeper relationship with God.
 

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