Monday, April 28, 2008

An Ascetic Life

I just finished reading "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers," by
Benedicta Ward, SLG. Available from Publisher. The small book is a series of 238 paragraph-size accounts of what the desert fathers did and said — each paragraph leading to a lesson about the Christian way of living.
Sometimes it took a little thought to understand the point trying to be made by the account, but most often they were clear.

Benedicta Ward also gives some background information on the range of ascetic practices which is one of the best summaries of the early monastic life:

"In the fourth century, Egypt, Syria and Palestine were the scenes of intensive asceticism virtually new in the Christian world. Every form of monastic life was tried, and reshaped according to the content of the Gospel. By AD 400 Egypt could be described as a land of hermits, a source of exasperation to the civil authorities, who preferred men to work, fight and pay taxes and a focus for enthusiastic, if at times misguided, admiration from Christians in the East and soon also in the West.

"Three main types of monastic experiment in Egypt correspond roughly to three geographical locations. In Lower Egypt St Antony the Great lived as a hermit and drew disciples to him who followed his way of life in solitude. In Upper Egypt there evolved a different form of the radical break with society in groups who lived in large communities under the inspiration of Saint Pachomius. Between these two extremes of eremitic and cenobitic life there emerged the lavra or skete, small groups living near a spiritual father and probably near a church where they could meet at weekends for the liturgy; these groups were found most of all in Nitria ..... In Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor there were also Christians who were involved in the ascetic life in its monastic forms, and some stories and sayings from these areas are occasionally found among the Egyptian sources, but it was Egypt that most attracted attention and produced written records which were to influence the monastic world continually."

End of quote from the "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers," by
Benedicta Ward, SLG.


The following article written by Sue Carlton appeared in the January 4, 2008 edition of the St. Petersburg Times, it is about a lady who lived in Tampa:

"Mary who lived in the stairwell
"By Sue Carlton
"Published by the St. Petersburg Times January 4, 2008:

"When a real estate appraisal business was about to move into a new office in Tampa a few years back, the new owner was told of the building's quirks: There was a bit of a problem with bees, and there was Mary who lived in the stairwell.

"That was what they called her, Mary, though some who saw the 60-something woman on her daily forays around busy Cypress Street, to the 7-Eleven or the dry cleaner where they let her spruce up, knew her as Speedy. Or Linda. Or Sarah. Or the Homeless Lady.

"But at the BayOne building, she was Mary. She stowed her things in a wide utility storage space with a door under the stairs and at night she slept there, or just outside if the weather was right. She made herself building watchman, kept things tidy, reported burned-out bulbs and suspicious cars. The owner got so he'd check the weather forecast before he left at night. Mary would want to know.

"She wore lipstick sometimes, kept herself neat, liked healthy food. It took her awhile to trust you, months even, but then she was friendly and happy to see you. She said there was a fiance in Texas, or a husband she hoped would come get her. She said there was a daughter she didn't see but loved very much.

"People tried to help. Mary had a code; she would not accept gifts of things brand new or take more than $20. Bunny Garcia, who works in the building, gave her a bag of goodies to eat and a bottle of perfume one Christmas. Mary thanked her but gave back the perfume without opening the wrap to see what it was.

"Once, she said her name wasn't really Mary, but she wouldn't say any more. Now and then Garcia would find her crying. "Mary, are you okay?" she would ask, and Mary always said, "fine, fine, just one of those days."

"The man who came to clean the parking lot found her on the Saturday before Christmas. The Medical Examiner's Office later said it was natural causes. Even after that, someone left a bag of peaches, baby powder, raisins and Gatorade in the stairwell for her, not knowing she was already gone.

"When the florist called to make sure the memorial wreath was really supposed to be delivered to an office instead of a funeral home, he heard the story and sent one twice as elaborate. Mary could get you doing things like that.

"They put up a note at the 7-Eleven about a memorial service, and people kept coming, the woman who checked on her at night and brought her grandbaby to meet her, people who gave her the yogurt bars she liked, a man who kept her in batteries so she could listen to her favorite religious radio station. A young man who lived nearby talked about how Mary encouraged him about school. He left his high school graduation cap there in the stairwell with the flowers.

"They stood in a circle and told stories about how they knew her and cried some and wondered about her life, 35 people in all, some who might never have had reason to talk to each other otherwise. They tried to help her and somehow she helped them.

"Fingerprints revealed Mary's real name was Johnnie Ree Barlow. She turned 69 in October. She spent some time in Jackson, Miss. For now, that's what they know.

"Authorities will keep her ashes for four months. If they don't find her next of kin, those ashes will be spread somewhere over water. But even if no one comes, there is family off busy Cypress Street who will remember Mary."

Link to the article

End of the article.

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