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The Spirituality of the Desert

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

image of Religion and Theology

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.

Affiliations: 1: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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