Here's what we're wondering about:
Desert Abbas & Ammas
Who?! Abbas and Ammas, who lived a long time ago, were daddies and mommies, but not necessarily parents. That sounds sort of like a riddle. What it means is, those people were like good parents: they led others to knowledge and the best ways to be. They inspired and encouraged by teaching and example. They loved - fiercely! And they were beloved. (Did you know Jesus called God, "Abba"?)
They lived in the desert (a lonely place, a dangerous place). These abbas and ammas chose to live far away from people. Before, when they lived in busy cities and towns, there were too many distractions: money, rich food, fancy clothing and belongings, people everywhere, greed, envy, noise. . . TOO MUCH!
These people really, really wanted to focus on God. They needed to go away, and to be alone. Alone with God!
So that's what they did. They tried their hardest to focus only on God. They tried not to think or worry about food, clothing, family, or friends. They concentrated with all their heart, mind, and body on one thing only: loving God.
In the picture above, the man on the left is a desert abba, Anthony. People call him the "Father of Monks" because he inspired people who want to live their lives worshiping God. Anthony was one of the first people to go to live in the desert. He was following this teaching from Jesus: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven." (Matthew 19: 21)
On the right is a desert abba named Paul (a different Paul than in the Bible). He gave up everything to live in the desert. He's wearing clothes woven out of the leaves of a palm tree (not to be fashionable or comfortable, but because palm leaves were what God provided). A bird is bringing him a piece of bread to eat. The lions at his feet were said to have dug his grave and wept for him when he died.
And ammas! There were lots of women who lived in the desert, too. Many of their names and stories have been lost, often because it was believed that men's stories were more important. That's not true. Here are just some of the names of desert ammas: Syncletica, Theodora, Sarah, Olympias, Paula, and Eustochium.
Do you have to go to the desert to live a holy life? No! Amma Syncletica said: "There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town; they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd; and it is possible for those who are solitaries to live in the crowd of their own thoughts."
And Amma Theodora reminded everyone that "true humility" (putting God first, always) is the most powerful way to live. Thank you, desert ammas and abbas!