Friday, October 15, 2004

The Wisdom of the Desert

For those who have asked "Why?" Here is Thomas Merton from The Wisdom of the Desert:

"The flight of these men to the desert was neither purely negative nor purely individualistic. They were not rebels against society. True, they were in a certain sense "anarchists," and it will do no harm to think of them in that light. They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state, and who believed that there was a way of getting along with slavish dependence on accepted, conventional values. But they did not intend to place themselves above society. They did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men. On the contrary, one of the reasons why they fled from the world of men was that in the world men were divided into those who were successful, and imposed their will upon others, and those who had to give in and be imposed upon. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over others themselves."

And from an article specifically about Christ in the Desert:

"The desert setting of the Chama Canyon is the site of a new monastic foundation. The place was chosen with careful deliberation, and it is admirable. Thirteen miles by dirt road from the nearest highway, the monastery rises at a point where the canyon narrows and the road vanishes into rock and brush. The monastic church, designed by the Japanese architect, George Nakashima, fits perfectly into its setting. Stark, lonely, stately in its simplicity, it gazes out over the sparse fields into the widening valley. The tower is like a watchman looking for something or someone of whom it does not speak. One of the important "works of mercy" which a monastery can contribute to the world of our time is precisely to share with thoughtful people an opportunity for silence, reflection, and quiet discussion of important issues. A monastery is not a place were a few men retire to deepen their own experiences of the meaning of life; it is also a center where others can come to re-adjust their perspective. While not blindly rejecting and negating the modern world, the monastery nevertheless retains a certain critical distance and perspective which are absolutely necessary as mass society becomes at once more totally organized and more mindlessly violent. In its firm assertion of the basic human values as well as of God's message of salvation, the monastery bears witness to the most fundamental and most permanent truths of life. It remains a sanctuary where both monks and retreatants, Christians, believers in other faiths and those with no religious belief at all may experience something of that "peace which the world cannot give." But even if no one else knew of the existence of such a place, the monastery would still fulfill the purpose of its existence by singing the praise of God in the wilderness."

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