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on 2 January 2004
Despite its title, this is a book not to be silent about! Exploring the sayings of the desert fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries might at first glance seem to be a dry and unrewarding task, but Williams unearths hidden gems for a 21st century audience. Focusing on gaining God in one's neighbour, respecting difference, fleeing from our false ideas of self and finding God where we are, Williams gives a brilliant exposé of the lies we tell ourselve and draws out the grace of God which loves us anyway. Williams's work resonates with the wisdom of the Bible whilst rarely quoting it, and leaves you with a feeling that if Jesus were physically present on earth today, this is what he would say. Eye opening, exciting, and utterly rewarding.
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on 17 June 2008
This thoughtful little book won't take you long to read (at just over 100 pages) but there's a lot here worth absorbing.

The sayings and lives of the so-called desert fathers, who many centuries ago inhabited ancient Syria and a number of surrounding territories have in recent times attracted the attention of many modern readers. The translation of a number of their writings by Sister Benedicta Ward, in particular, has assisted in this, as she has made what these distant believers taught available in a helpful collection in English.

Rowan Williams' book offers a discussion of a number of the most important features of the spirituality of the desert fathers - their asceticism, conceptions of God and the world, and their relationships to others. He offers only a sketch, but does enough to bring the world of his subjects alive.

At the end of the book, there is a transcript of a question and answer session between Williams and a number of interlocutors at a conference in Australia. I felt this was an excellent addition to the book, since the questions posed all relate to how the ideas and examples of the desert fathers can be understood for their relevance here and now, and because Williams' answers intimate (with,for him, an unusual degree of clarity) how he personally conceives the important role of the desert monks in his own spiritual life.
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on 5 March 2007
The first monks and nuns of the Christian era who lived in the inhospitable places of the Middle East have begun to experience something of a revival; Christopher Jamison in his excellent book Finding Sanctuary talks about them a lot, and gives tantalizing snippets from their lives. Is this the place to praise them, or to explain what a huge influence they have had on our culture? Probably only briefly: without them, there might have been no Augustine, that great philosopher and theologian from Roman N Africa; the work of the early monks in Europe such as Benedict are full of their wisdom; and without these two pillars, Europe would have looked very different. Even though they lived uncompromising lives of silence and poverty, their message, by and large, is homely, social and full of a trust in their vision of God. Williams' task - and he succeeds very well indeed - is to bring these people into his readers' world. His view of these men and women leads him to examine our conformist, manufacture-led culture, our reliance on the myths of choice.

Williams gives a methodical exposition of the message he takes from the lives of these eccentric and imposing individuals. The original stories can be witty, poignant, powerful; Williams chooses well from the collections of their sayings and weaves an engaging picture. Perhaps his depiction of these early desert monastics in Silence and Honey Cakes can be a touch too comfortable in parts; I wonder whether he is casting them after his own likeness at times, but this is Williams writing carefully between the pastoral and the academic, drawing on the ancient sources of the sayings of the desert monastics to present a modern moral: fidelity to our neighbour in the society in which we live may require a radical, contemplative commitment to faith and to honesty.

This is a very good book to read as an introduction to these early shapers of Christian spirituality; it is a challenging book if you want to look at how their message might still apply today.
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on 18 November 2008
Silence and Honey Cakes is essentially the same book as Where God Happens. They have different publishers. The four essays by Rowan Williams are identical, but both books have extras which are worth having. S&HC has Questions and Answers, and WGH has a selection by Laurence Freeman of sayings from the monastic wisdom of the Christian Desert. I recommend either book, but probably not both!
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on 8 June 2010
This book is a little gem. I dip in and dip out of this book when I need help in resolving everyday dilemmas and conflicts in life. Trying to do the right thing in life is very hard. This book with it's simple format and pithy language has been a true God send. The book illustrates how by accepting our human frailties and yet still striving to overcome them can be managed by honest and supportive dialogue with each other and being realistic but unrelenting in trying always to justify actions as being ethical objectively. Also this book shows how silence can be beautiful and perfect for inner reflection and understanding true motives and resulting actions. In this day and age where secularism appears to rule, this book shows how secularism and spiritualism can coexist happily without conflict in one's everyday life. I love this book and the author whose profound theology is an oasis in an increasingly spiritually arid world. I have read and re-read several passages many times over and each reading gives a new and helpful insight. This is an excellent book and I cannot recommend it more highly. RW shows that the desert fathers and mothers certainly knew a thing or two about life and their wisdom is as important and valid today as it was centuries ago!! If you are a Jesus fan, as I am, you will love this book as it shows how we can all lead a Christian life in a in an ever increasing secular world.
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on 29 March 2009
This book is stonkingly good. An excellent introduction to the humanity of religion and the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers. Inspirational and quiet, at the same time. Well worth reading if you're drawn by the idea of silence. The only part I'd disagree with is the section where Williams questions the validity of fantasies and says that reality is more important. To my mind, fantasies are part of the reality of life (how else would anyone write or draw or compose at all without fantasy??) and should be given equal billing with what is real. That's my only quibble though - otherwise read it. It's a classic.
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on 8 June 2016
A wonderfully intimate thought provoking exploration of the lives and writings of the desert monks of the 5th century.
Skeptical of some aspects of the emerging catholic church these men and women devoted themselves to Christian community, devotion, reflection and above all, the pursuit of living in simplicity and humbleness.

With today's current trend of many of us trekking off to distant lands to experience poverty and different kinds of community this book reminds us that this trend is not really as new as we think. Many people have always yearned to put their busy, hectic stressful lives on hold. While the current trend tends more towards narcissism and the quest to find the real "me" these earlier people attempted to build better relations with each other, to worship God as they saw right and to practice the teachings of the new testament.

Rowan Williams has done an excellent job of balancing description and analysis, gently letting the voices of the past speak for themselves while at the same time pointing out many of our contemporary problems apply to the questions this group of people were asking all those years ago in North Africa. For instance the issue of restlessness is discussed by the desert fathers, a timeless problem.
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on 15 November 2010
A readable and inspiring book on the desert fathers by the Archbishop of Canterbury. My only complaint is that it's quite short and there aren't as many quotations as I would have liked. Overall a good introduction but if you want more of their wisdom you would need to get Benedicta Ward's book.
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on 23 June 2011
Wow! There was just so much in this book that I wanted to remember. I started book marking pages but ran out of book marks. Rowan Williams is a great scholar but this book is written in a very accessible way for a non academic. It gave me so much to think about. It is very relevant for every day life in the world, not just in an isolated community.
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on 8 November 2014
I need to go back to this one. The information about the early church and the links to monasticism in Europe is interesting. The 'edited highlights' of the desert fathers' thinking - basically love rather than judgement - is authentically Christian. But I am not sure I have inwardly digested all that is being said by Rowan Williams and feel that quite a lot has been left out so this is not a complete picture.
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