The annual Houston Lay School of Theology will take place on Saturday, February 16 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston. The program, “Praying with the Desert Fathers and Mothers,” will be led by Tamara Lewis, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Perkins School of Theology.

The day-long course invites participants to travel back in time to rediscover the spiritual riches of the ascetic mothers and fathers of the desert, who left mainstream society to devote themselves to worship, prayer and contemplation of Christ in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. In this harsh physical environment, these early believers risked all to achieve what they believed were the essential mental, spiritual, and physical purifications towards greater unity with God.

Participants will have the chance to reflect on their writings and learn from their prayer practices.

“For the patriarchs, and the prophets, and the mothers, and disciples, yes even for Christ, the desert was a place that refined one’s strength,” said Lewis. “The desert is the place of suffering, but also deepens one’s sense of dependence on God.”

For a long time, Lewis noted, some scholars denied that the Desert Mothers even existed. They claimed no women went out to the desert, only the men – that women stayed at home, not daring to venture out into the realm of the abyss, to the underworld, to the place of dry bones.  Now the tradition of the Desert Mothers is generally accepted. Historical writings and the texts reveal that in early Christianity, women often wore male habits in order to enter monasteries or survive in the desert.

The writings and experiences of the Desert Fathers and Mothers speak to anyone who seeks a deeper experience of faith, Lewis added.

“The desert invites us to ask ourselves, ‘Are we willing to die in those places that need to die?’ she said. “Jesus said let the dead bury their own dead. Will we? What are we holding onto that needs to die?”

Sponsored by Perkins, the Houston Lay School meets each February and August, offering an opportunity for laity and others to explore issues of spirituality, theology, religion and church leadership with faculty from Perkins and guest speakers.  The program is made possible in part by the Howard-Holbert Endowment at SMU.  To register, click here.