Alan Jones (1985) Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality (San Francisco: HarperSan Franciso). The Very Reverend Alan Jones has been the Dean of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) in San Francisco (1985 -2009). Previously, he served as the Stephen F. Bayne Professor of Ascetical Theology at the General Theological Seminary in New York City from 1972 – 1982. During his tenure, he founded and was the first director of the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Theological Seminary .
LOOK, WEEP, LIVE is how Jones summaries the Desert spirituality. Looking is seeing beyond the superficiality and delusions of our lives. Weeping is the “gifts of tears” of the desert fathers and mothers. It is the tears from the breaking down of our illusions and becoming aware of our sinfulness and brokenness. Living in desert spirituality is to live a life for God, free of attachment to the material things of the world, focusing on what is eternal and holy. Jones describes certain aspects of desert spirituality very well, showing a wide scope and depth of knowledge in other traditions when he draws upon their koan and stories to illustrate certain points.
What impresses is when Jones compares and likens desert spirituality to psychoanalysis. There may be commonality between the two approaches but whether desert spirituality may be reduced to the agnostic approach of psychoanalysis is questionable. The commonality of desert spirituality and psychoanalysis according to Jones are:
(1) The need for detachment.
(2) The belief that nothing is accidental.
(3) The fact that we are not as free as we think we are.
(4) The conviction that remembering is an important part of growth.
(5) The belief that while we have to do much of what we do alone, companionship is essential.
(6) The necessity of contemplative commitment.
(7) An appreciation of our ‘fallenness.’
(8) The mystery of having to let go of the things and people we love the most. (p.48)
Jones posites correctly that love is the foundational emotion or force in desert spirituality and whether to love or not is a choice. “The desert believer chooses Jesus and is chosen by him,” states Jones, “And this choosing becomes a way of knowing, loving, and living that knows no end. Soul making is a matter of choosing the reality of love by which all other realities are tested as if by fire.” (p.209).
This is an excellent book on desert spirituality, one of the most challenging among the many forms of Christian spiritualites. It is worthwhile to buy and read, and reread for the many gems buried in the desert sand.