The monk in the desert

Thinkers such as Thomas Merton have been preoccupied with the question why did monks (or other religious seekers after the truth) go into solitude in the desert (or into a sort of solitude in monasteries). More exactly, Merton asks what should be the real purpose of doing this? Is it to escape the sinful ethos and temptations of the city or society of normal life? Or, more meaningfully, to escape from one’s one problematic self, or ego, into nothingness, as a preparation for engagement with God? As Merton says, even though the monk is living in a community, he is bound to explore “the inner waste of his own being as a solitary”. Merton quotes from the sixth century Syrian ascetic Philoxenos, who comments on the monk who follows Christ into the desert to fight the power of error: “And where is the power of error? We find it was after all not in the city, but in OURSELVES”.

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