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Review: Spiritual Alchemy by Anthony of the Desert

Spiritual Alchemy: The Fall, The Cure, The Jesus Prayer is written by Anthony of the Desert.  In the 1950s, Anthony, whose birth name is Frank Jarvis Atwood, was born in Northern California.  His childhood neighborhood was in an upscale area and he attended an impressive Military Academy.  However, Atwood became involved in the drug scene and when he was eighteen he was in a state prison.  Over the next decade, he would have several stays in different prisons in California.

In 1984, Atwood was arrested in Texas by the FBI for kidnap and murder.  These crimes were allegedly committed in Arizona.  To this day, Atwood states that these charges were false and that he was wrongfully convicted.  However, he now lives on death row in Arizona.  While in prison, Atwood acquired a couple of Associates of Arts from Central Arizona College and from Ohio University.  In addition, Atwood has received a Bachelors and Masters degree from Ohio University.  And most recently, he has started a three year Masters program in theology.  He converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity.  In 2000, Atwood was baptized and received his name Anthony.  He added “of the Desert” to remind himself of sin.

His background intrigued me.  I am amazed by his resolve not to quit living or to become obsessed with vengeance, especially given his claims that he’s been unjustly accused and condemned to death.  This would break the spirit of many people.  Instead, he turned to religion to deal with an overwhelming situation. 

Given Anthony’s story, it is fitting that his book, Spiritual Alchemy, discusses sin. He divides his book into three parts.  The first part discusses the Fall, when Eve bit into the apple and the consequences for humans since that event.  The next component outlines the cure. This section delves into ways to bring a person back to his or her sole purpose, which is to reunite with God.  Lastly, Anthony discusses the Jesus Prayer and how it is “the ultimate cure for all infections from the Fall and as the quintessential vehicle for deification.”

As I read the book, I sensed the amount of research that the author utilized to present a clear and concise thesis.  Each section builds upon the other to aid the reader from point to point.  I found his historical research to be informative, albeit the sources are solely religious texts.  This book would be helpful to those who are on this path and would like to learn more about the healing benefits of the Jesus Prayer and the historical background.

Given the author’s personal history, I was somewhat surprised that he does not let you into his own personal struggles and salvation by introducing the Jesus Prayer into his own battle with sin.  It would move this work away from feeling like a term paper and into a thought provoking work demonstrating the rewards of accepting that humans are sinful and that utilizing the Jesus Prayer can bring people closer to God.

Furthermore, it would behoove the author to take more time editing his work.  Certain words and phrases are repeatedly used to emphasize his point.  I lost count of how many times the writer used the words thus, perceive, perception, and the phrase, in other words.

Overall, this work would be a helpful aid to people seeking to learn more about the Jesus Prayer.  I give Spiritual Alchemy three out of five stars.



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