In a thirteenth century Franciscan preacher’s guide, one of the early Christian desert monks quoted is Ammonas. He is seen as a practical guide to virtue. But research now provides us with fourteen letters written by that Egyptian Christian, containing a well-considered spirituality (Letters of Ammonas, Chitty trans., SLG Press). Perhaps images of a ship might encourage worshippers to think about Jonas, and images of a vine trellis to be aware of the Passiontide readings. However a deeper reflection can also be developed. Ammonas, in the fourth century, spoke symbolically of a ship with two rudders. One represents early fervour in conversion, peaceful and persevering. The second represents a better fervour, able to struggle in a great contest, with “patience that is unperturbed.”
Having both these rudders will mean the conversion can travel a great distance, ignoring all passions such as our craving for flattery. Other images can fit in with this. “If any man love the Lord with all his heart and… soul… and might, he will acquire awe, and awe in him will beget weeping, and weeping joy, and joy will beget strength, and in all this the soul will bear fruit. And when God sees its fruit so fair, He will accept it as a sweet savour…. For thus the sweetness of God will provide you with the greatest possible strength.”
These desert hermits had consulting rooms too. They were not simply turning their back on human needs. The same is true of certain Franciscans, such as Giles, who lived as hermits.