Caring and not caring

The Desert Christians on apathy

I’m delighted to be back among the 400-year-old whitebark pine trees of the Wind River Range in northwest Wyoming. At tree line, near 10,000 feet, the bent and grizzled pines almost seem to thrive on wind-driven snow and sleet, lightning strikes, drought and disease. They stand as grand masters of sustained indifference.

This high desert country is a perfect place for reflecting on the hardy and compelling spirituality of the Desert Christians. The desert monks of ancient Egypt were old and gnarled themselves. St. Paul of Thebes died at 113, and St. Anthony buried him in the desert east of the Nile, two lions—according to legend—helping to dig his grave. Anthony himself lived to be 105. These weathered saints, who served as an example for all who followed, knew the answers to the two great desert questions: what do you learn to ignore, and what do you learn to love?


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