Thursday, October 28, 2004
On Madness and the Devil
While I was out at the Monastery in the Desert, I re-read Thoughts in Solitude by Merton and Grammars of Creation by George Steiner. The resonance between those two books was simply astounding. Combined with the daily liturgy, primarily the Gregorian chanting of the Psalms, and the violent beauty of the Chama river canyon, the overall effect upon me can only be described as having my bones slipped out of my skin and burned in the unbearable laughter of God's absolute presence.
I started out with Merton, so it makes sense to return with him also. From Thoughts in Solitude:
The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert therefore is the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself - that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his creator.
This is, at least, the theory. But there is another factor that enters in. First, the desert is the country of madness. Second, it is the refuge of the devil, thrown out into the "wilderness of upper Egypt" to "wander in dry places." Thirst drives men mad, and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence - lost because he had immured himself in it and closed out everything else.
So the man who wanders into the desert to be himself must take care that he does not go mad and become the servant of the one who dwells there in a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage.
And while I may have raged, there was nothing sterile or paradisical or empty about the desert I wandered though. Nevertheless, the devil attended to me also. He loves those violent Psalms.