Editor's note: We are grateful to spiritual director and author Ryan Kuja for sharing this excerpt from his new book From the Inside Out: Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World. An SDI New Contemplative (2016), Ryan is currently working in Medellin, Colombia as a Christian contemplative activist. In this excerpt, he examines the contemplative spirituality that arose among the Desert Mothers and Fathers and continues today as a practice that invites us to leave the "falsity of the ego" and "meet a God we don’t know and can’t possibly imagine."
After Constantine converted to Christianity around 313 CE, the still fledgling Jesus movement that had existed only on the fringes of society became the religion of the Roman Empire. As the Christianizing of the ancient Near East began, the foundations of the gospel began to morph to fit Rome’s vision rather than the vision of Jesus and the original church.
The empire began remaking the Jesus movement into its own image.
As many faithful followers of Jesus witnessed the perversion of their faith concretize further and further, some chose to resist it by fleeing. Men and women left the cities for the deserts of Palestine, Egypt, and Syria. It was here that desert spirituality arose as a reaction to and liberation from empire spirituality.
They fled into the wilderness to nurture another way of life in community, to discern what it meant to follow Christ through humility, silence, and solitude. The desert invited a radical interiority rooted in contemplative practice focused on a complete surrender to the divine as well as a confrontation of falsity in the self and in the world. Here, the Desert Mothers (Ammas) and Fathers (Abbas) were able to have an experience of Christ not mediated by the state but by their own bodily reality.