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The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women Paperback – May 1, 2001


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The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women + The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Despite the very substantial and continuing interest in women's issues in Christianity and the ceaseless stream of publications for, by, and about Christian women, there has been astonishingly little about the early generations of female ascetics the Ammas of the desert. Swan's fine accessible and scholarly work here should help to repair that lack. She includes not only a good overview of the ascetic background but also a fresh translation and commentary on the Ammas' known sayings, an account of lesser-known Ammas, and a calendar of feasts for the Ammas. An excellent starting-place for the study of women in religion, women in the Church, and asceticism, this is highly recommended.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

A needed and incredibly insightful resource...Swan has rendered us all an invaluable service. -- Values and Visions Reviews Service

A valuable addition to religious scholarship, painting a more inclusive picture of early Christianity. -- The Olympian and Tacoma News Tribune

In collecting and telling these stories, Laura Swan has given us a great gift. -- Friends Journal

This clear, well-written treasure brings to life the stories and spirituality of women in early Christianity. -- Catholic Library World

You will find yourself turning to this book often for inspiration. -- Spiritual Book News
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Paulist Press (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809140160
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809140169
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Benedictine Sister Laura Swan is a member of St. Placid Priory in the beautiful Pacific Northwest (www.stplacid.org). She is a spiritual director and archivist as well as faculty at Saint Martin's University (www.stmartin.edu) where the students inspire her to learn and rethink and learn even more. Her passion has been around restoring the histories and stories of women to history (to the narratives that shape our understanding and perceptions). She is at work on several fiction projects at this time

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
The sayings of the desert mothers (the Ammas) are worth the purchase of the book. They are starkly beautiful and fresh. However, Laura Swan's commentary is predictable, dull and full of religious jargon and psychological cliche. Often the commentary loses sight of a particular Amma's "saying" entirely. Swan has a knack for missing the humor or irony in many of the sayings. I soon gave up reading Swan and simply read the Ammas' sayings -- and was more than rewarded.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By mianfei on February 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ever since I bought it, Laura Swan's "The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives and Stories of Early Christian Women" has proved a very interesting read for a person caught up in the mundane life of inner-city Melbourne.

Laura's Swan's stories of these women from mostly very wealthy backgrounds who turned to the simplest and most stringently ascetic lives never fail to stir my own imagination. The way in which some ammas would go so far as to wear hairshirts and sleep on hair mats is particularly stirring because it suggests to me that these people must have been remarkably devout and had deep emotional ties to God.

They stories form, even for someone like myself who has never had the self-discipline to be a religious practitioner of any kind, stories that have a true beauty in their simplicity and the manner in which the desert ammas would not only teach numerous disciples but also help the numerous very poor people of their time. The way in which many widows become ammas is particularly fascinating for someone of my generation.

There are also a great many interesting sidelights on how the desert ammas communicated with much better-known theologians such as Jerome, plus a good deal of interesting stories of how the ammas resisted persecution by anti-Christian forces in the first three centuries of Christianity.

Swan, a Benedictine nun, also offers detailed, easy-to-read analyses of both the sayings of the desert ammas and what the ammas offer as an alternative to today's stressful, fast-paced life.

All in all, this is an impressive book with very surprising information that will add a great deal to your knowledge of early Christianity or serve perfectly as a purely inspirational work (as with myself).
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By The Good Crone on October 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful resource book for anyone interested in the history of spirituality. We have heard about the desert fathers, but here is a well-documented, readable, sometimes quirky look at their female counterparts.
Swan relates the writings of the desert matriarchs to her own life and thought, which helped me think through some of the issues, such as asceticism, marriage, leadership, and changing views of women, society and spirituality. Read it! It is full of plums!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Isabel Anders on January 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"We went through fire and water; yet God has brought us forth to a spacious place." --Amma Syncletica.

Such imagery of extreme endurance permeates the sayings of these forgotten Ammas.

"Desert spirituality understood that the inner journey was one of warfare" (p. 48).

The stories, the sayings, the wisdom in this book expand our understanding of the Christian incarnational experience and its witness to the world of the Christlife--then and now.

Highly recommended.

Isabel Anders is the author of Becoming Flame: Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom with a Foreword by Phyllis Tickle.
Becoming Flame: Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mike DePue, OFS on February 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
In assessing the biographical material, it is well to note that the Lives, regardless of gender, "were usually composed in a hagiograpical style with the intent of converting the reader. 'Facts,' in our modern, scientific sense, were not of primary concern." (p. 198)

Also to be noted: desert spirituality sees fear of God as "awe and respect for the immanence and yet total otherness of God..., drawn and attracted to a deepening relationship with God. It is being unafraid of God." (p. 197) Would that Christianity was doing a better job of embracing that view in our time!

This book is of considerable value in understanding the full gender spectrum of desert spirituality. "The ammas show us how to begin the spiritual journey and what the elements of a life-giving and challenging spirituality are. They model healthy mentoring for us, showing us signs of what a modern amma or abba might look like." (p. 152)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Gloger on February 4, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Desert Mothers opened a whole new world for our women's study group. They were amazed and thrilled that the Desert Mothers existed and at all that they did. In this continuing age of masculine over feminine in so many churches, our women were refreshed and encouraged to carry on their ministries and identified with the Mothers.
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13 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Trinity on July 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly loved this book, particularly the wonderful commentary. I found myself drawn to their lives and craving to learn more about the ammas. Also the historical perspective of the ever evolving role of women in catholicism was evident and insightful. I also found the dictionary in the back very helpful.
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By Baldi6667 on June 15, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you like or are interested in ancient female Christian living & thinking this is a must read. A great bedside companion. The book takes you back to the ancient women who lived a desert existence. A time that is no more.
Pat Z..
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