Just in time for Lent! A review of The Wilderness Journal

Lent is fast approaching Today is Meatfare Sunday.  As a community, Orthodox Christians will not eat meat again after today until the fast is broken on Pascha.  But Lent is more than just not eating meat or dairy.  It's a time of preparation.  We renew our minds by focusing on the spiritual.  Along with fasting we pray more and do almsgiving.  Many of us turn to books to help us renew our minds and focus on the spiritual.  The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia by Angela Doll Carlson is an excellent choice for preparing for Lent.

First let's talk about the Philokalia. The Philokalia is not a single continuous book with one author. It is is a mult-volume collection of texts from the 4th to the 14th centuries focusing on spiritual living. The writers are all spiritual masters in the Orthodox Christian Tradition.

The Wilderness Journal is a devotional tool we can use  to pursue Holiness by mediating on God, faith and Spiritual things.   Unlike the common Bible devotions available where you read a short passage from scripture and then the devotional author shares his or her thoughts on the passage, this book helps us to mediate on spiritual living by using passages from the first volume of the Philokalia.  Angela Doll Carlson invites you to come along with her as she shares her year long journey of reading and journalling the Philokalia.

From the back of the book:
 The Philokalia - a collection of the best writings from Orthodox spiritual masters across many centuries - is a treasure trove of direction for the spiritual life. But it can be overwhelming at first glance. Popular author and podcaster Angela Doll Carlson set herself the mission of reading through The Philokalia in a year and journaling about the thoughts it called up in her. The result is a thoughtful, inspiring daily devotional that introduces new readers to this great spiritual classic and helps us apply the wisdom of the ages to a layperson's life in the modern world.
The book opens with a short Explorer's Note letter.  Angela Doll Carson shares how her wilderness journal began and how it is "a view of [her] own wilderness, words from words, in dialogue with the text itself. Because our dialogue might differ from hers, we are encouraged to "consider keeping a wilderness journal of your own."    

The Wilderness Journal is divided into sections for each of the spiritual masters.  Each saint's section’s first day is an introduction. These introductions are not written by Angela Doll Carlson. Each one is written by a different author but all of them provide background information to help readers learn a little more about the spiritual master.

Each day, after the introduction, begins with a couple of sentences.  Some days there is only a one sentence such as Day 59 where we read "Cultivate great humility and courage, and you will escape the power of demons." Evagrios the Solitary, "on Prayer, p. 66 [ page 73] while others are more like a paragraph.  Most days however, begin with a 2 or 3 sentence quote from the Philokalia. All of the quotes are from the first volume.

There is one reading for each day so there are 365 readings. The beauty of this though is that they are numbered Day 1, Day 2 Day 3 etc. So you can start any day and if you are like me and skip a day or three here and there you can just pick up where you left off without being hounded by the date across the top not matching. There is a month listed in the upper right hand corner but it is smaller and in italics and I find it easy to ignore it and focus on the large bold Day 68 for example.

We read quotes from these spiritual masters:

  • Isaiah the Solitary
  • Evagrios the Solitary
  • John Cassian
  • Mark the Ascetic
  • Hesychios the Priest
  • Neilos the Ascetic
  • Diadochos of Photiki
  • John Karpathos

I have found that I get the most out of each day's readings when I take the time to read and re-read the quoted Philokalia text and think about what it means to me before reading what Ms Doll Carlson had to say about it. Sometimes she takes in a direction that I would have never thought and yet it makes sense.

This isn't an easy book to read but it is thought provoking. The readings are short but don’t let that fool you in to thinking they are not rich, deep, and thought provoking. Angela Doll Carlson is a talented writer who paints pictures with her words. She shares her journey through the wildness and invites us to travel with her. I find myself not just thinking about what the Spiritual Master had to say, but about how Ms Doll Carlson frames the application for our modern world.

Book Details:
  • Author: Angela Doll Carlson 
  •  Format: Paperback 
  •  Dimensions: 5.5 X 8.5 inches 
  •  Page Length: approx. 400 pages 
  •  Publisher: Ancient Faith Publishing 
  •  ISBN: 9781944967512 
  •  Retail Price: $18.95

I recommend this book as an introduction to Philokalia. Angie Doll Carlson has made these gems accessible for those like me who find the Philokalia intimidating and overwhelming.

I received this book from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange my honest review.


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