The Spirituality of the Desert

Models of Appropriation by Henri Nouwen, Anselm Grün, and Kathleen Norris

in Religion and Theology
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In this article, three relatively recent works of popular spirituality are discussed with a focus on the appropriation of the Apophthegmata Patrum, the sayings of the desert fathers (and mothers). It is shown that such appropriation implies a complex dynamic of breaching and bridging as the critical, “breaching”, voice of the desert is called upon to bridge the gap between antiquity and modernity. The process of appropriation implies both the selection of specific texts and a favourable reading of the same. It is also informed by the formal training as well as the personal experience of the respective authors: Henri Nouwen, Anselm Grün, and Kathleen Norris. As the oscillation between ressourcement and aggiornamento is brought to bear on the congenial transplanting of ancient wisdom to the (post-)modern world, it becomes apparent that in these spiritual bestsellers the more problematic aspects of the desert are hardly ever breached themselves.

The Spirituality of the Desert

Models of Appropriation by Henri Nouwen, Anselm Grün, and Kathleen Norris

in Religion and Theology

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References

1

William HarmlessDesert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press2004) 170.

4

HarmlessDesert Christians373–413.

5

HarmlessDesert Christians373.

7

HarmlessDesert Christians373.

10

Kathleen NorrisAcedia and Me: A Marriage Monks and A Writer’s Life (New York: Riverhead Books2008).

15

Henri J.M. NouwenThe Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine Books, 1981; repr.2003); Anselm Grün Der Himmel beginnt in dir: Das Wissen der Wüstenväter für heute (Freiburg: Herder 1994/1999; repr. 2008).

17

For bibliography see HarmlessDesert Christians333–338. Recent translations in: Robert E. Sinkewicz Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006) and Augustine M. Casiday Evagrius Ponticus (Abingdon: Routledge 2006).

18

HarmlessDesert Christians179–180.

19

HarmlessDesert Christians171–173.

20

HarmlessDesert Christians206–211 248–251.

21

HarmlessDesert Christians250.

22

HarmlessDesert Christians169–171.

23

HarmlessDesert Christians169.

24

Burton-ChristieThe Word85.

28

HarmlessDesert Christians170.

30

HarmlessDesert Christians169.

31

See also Burton-ChristieThe Word86.

32

HarmlessDesert Christians248.

33

HarmlessDesert Christians249.

35

MertonThe Wisdomix. See note 16.

44

See for instance NouwenThe Way11.

50

Cf. NouwenThe Way25–32 53–57 87–90.

51

Henri J.M. NouwenLife of Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (London: Hodder & Stoughton1992) 57–58.

53

NouwenThe Way94–95. Remarkably Burton Christie quotes the same story to complete the final chapter of his study on the word in the desert. See Burton-Christie The Word 291 (only the epilogue follows after the closing words of chapter 9).

57

Mark S. MassaCatholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen Dorothy Day and the Notre Dame Football Team (New York: The Publishing Company1999) 56.

59

GrünDer Himmel11–19.

61

GrünDer Himmel20–31.

62

GrünDer Himmel32–40.

65

GrünDer Himmel57–65.

66

See for Evagrius for instance HarmlessDesert Christians311–371.

67

GrünDer Himmel71–72.

68

GrünDer Himmel72–74.

69

GrünDer Himmel74–75.

70

GrünDer Himmel76–77.

71

GrünDer Himmel77–78.

72

GrünDer Himmel79–80.

73

GrünDer Himmel80–83.

74

GrünDer Himmel84–104. Cf. Evagrius Ponticus Antirrheticus in Evagrius Ponticus ed. Wilhelm Frankenberg (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung 1912) 472–544. In her study on asceticism Elizabeth Clark – taking her cue from Evagrius’s title – characterises this protective use of Scripture as “talking back.” See Elizabeth A. Clark Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1999) 128–132 esp. 131–132. A recent translation of the work (with introduction) is by David Brakke: Evagrius of Pontus: Talking Back: A Monastic Handbook for Combating Demons (Collegeville: Cistercian Publications 2009).

75

GrünDer Himmel66–67.

79

GrünDer Himmel105–113.

80

GrünDer Himmel114–122.

81

GrünDer Himmel123–128.

82

GrünDer Himmel129–132.

84

GrünDer Himmel117–119. Cf. Ward Sayings 132.

85

GrünDer Himmel118–120.

86

GrünDer Himmel59–60.

87

GrünDer Himmel50–51.

88

Willemien Otten and Theo Salemink“Prologue: Religious Identity and the Problem of Historical Foundation. The Foundational Character of Authoritative Texts and Traditions in the History of Christianity,” in Religious Identity and the Problem of Historical Foundation. The Foundational Character of Authoritative Sources in the History of Christianity and Judaismed. Judith Frishman Willemien Otten and Gerard Rouwhorst (Leiden: Brill2004) 4.

90

NorrisAcedia and Me2–3; cf. also 20–47 and 48–49.

92

NorrisAcedia and Me45.

93

NorrisAcedia and Me128–132.

94

NorrisAcedia and Me130–131.

96

NorrisAcedia and Me147–152.

97

NorrisAcedia and Me141.

98

NorrisAcedia and Me134.

99

NorrisAcedia and Me134–135.

100

NorrisAcedia and Me133–152.

103

ClarkReading Renunciation5–11.

105

ClarkReading Renunciation6. The quotation is from Spivak’s introduction to her translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology.

106

ClarkReading Renunciation8.

107

NorrisAcedia and Me133.

108

NorrisAcedia and Me134.

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