The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives

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9781570629006: The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul's Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives

To read any one of these ancient meditations—to repeat it to yourself, to explore its implications and its relevance to your daily life, to savor it—is to begin the soul's ascent on the path of mystical knowledge. Collected here are three hundred short meditations by Christian contemplatives from the second to the fourteenth centuries. Many were written by the Desert Fathers, the legendary monks who fled the decadence of city life to dedicate themselves to the life of the spirit in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine. The greatest of these teachers became experienced psychic guides, experts in mapping the stages of spiritual development, who taught and corresponded with disciples from all over Christendom. The meditations are arranged under three traditional headings (1) practice, geared primarily at developing sustained attention and discipline in the beginner; (2) theory, presenting guidance in overcoming obstacles that commonly arise in intermediate stages of spiritual practice; and (3) gnosis, reflections to be shared among the more spiritually advanced. From the Philokalia to Origen to Symeon the New Theologian, these ancient voices speak directly to the soul, as relevant today as they were centuries ago.

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Review:

The Book of Mystical Chapters wants to slow you down. Its 300 brief meditations, drawn from the writings of the earliest Christian contemplatives, are meant to be read over the course of 300 days. The book's translator and editor, John Anthony McGuckin, explains that this is how early Christian pilgrims learned the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, ascending through three stages of spiritual understanding, from the practical to the transcendent. Pilgrims repeated these meditations until each one broke "like a fruit on the tongue of the monk and revealed its inner flavor to the searching mind." The Book of Mystical Chapters suggests that readers ask of each aphorism, "How have we already experienced it; how could it illuminate a truth about our own heart or the troubles of our friends' hearts or the secret ways that God wishes to develop our seeking soul?" If you're sick of wasting time waiting at the bus stop, waiting between appointments, or waiting to go deeper in faith, maybe this is just the thing for you. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Inside Flap:

The early Christian monks of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine were the spiritual heroes of their age?fleeing the security of civilization for the desert, where they sought God in lives of prayer, contemplation, and radical simplicity. This book is a portable collection of their teachings, and those of their contemplative contemporaries, ranging from the fourth through the eleventh centuries. It is arranged to the traditional model of three ascending ?books?: Praktikos (practice), Theoretikos (theory), and Gnosis (knowledge). Each book consists of 100 ?sentences??aphorisms or thoughts. Each sentence is intended to be read and meditated upon for an entire day?just as the monks themselves might have done as they went about their work.


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