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New book ... Sayings of the Urban Fathers

My old friend and colleague, James Ashdown has written this interesting book.


My book Sayings of the Urban Fathers translating the Desert Fathers to East London (ISBN 978-0-7283-0344-7) has just been published by SLG press and I thought you might like to know


I wrote these stories when I was living in Hackney, East London. Life was quite hard. My health was poor, I was revaluating my career and I was beginning to recognise I needed to leave London which had been my home for 20 years. It was a place I had grown to love: its estates, its religion, its shabby backstreets, its people from all over the world. Then I discovered the ‘old men’, that is the Egyptian Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th and 5th centuries. They entranced me. So everyday before starting work I would translate one their sayings into the context I knew: the urban wilderness that is Babylondon (a Rastafarian term for London). Rereading them again after 10 years I found they made me cry and realised they were a love letter to the London I knew and a hymn of gratitude to the ‘old men’ who saved my life.

A few examples

Why being quiet is important

Holy Anthony said “When we retire into silence and solitude we escape the conflict that comes from hearing, speaking and seeing but we do not escape the far greater conflict, which is the conflict within our own hearts”

On the proper use of guilt and sorrow

Some seekers were gathered together for a celebration. It was a good natured and happy time with much laughter but then they saw that holy Jean had gone to be by herself and she was quietly crying when they asked her why, she said “There is so much joy here but the world is full of pain and sadness and misery”.

How to gain control over your emotions and live a more fruitful life

There was a holy man called John who went to see his good friend Parminder who had lived for 40 years on a very obscure estate on the edge of London. The two friends loved each other deeply and John was able to ask Parminder with complete candour “You have lived here a long time and I can see you are deeply at peace with the place, tell me what do you feel you have really achieved?” Parminder replied “I came here because I was a very greedy person, I desired wealth and fame and the good things of life but I am now glad that I have escaped from that servitude, I am content to eat the simplest of food, live with nothing and be known by virtually no one”. John nodded his agreement and said “I was a very angry man, but now when I feel the slightest flicker of anger, I start laughing”. This story was told by the writer Cassandra when people asked her what attracted her to the holy ones.

With my love and apologies for doing something Abba Arsenius (my Holy Arnold) would never have done!

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