Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Extravagance in the desert

I am reading Stones laid before the Lord, a history of monastic architecture written by a French Trappist monk in the 1960s (which thanks to Cistercian studies is translated into English). He opens with a brief history of the growth of monasticism from its desert roots in which he mentions the competitions between ascetics to see who could fast or go without sleep the longest. This notion of competitive or heroic acestism has been showing up occasionally in the readings/discussions from the other two courses. How much of the current (or even the past) interest in meditation and contemplation is fueled by curiousity about the physiological external effects, and less about the internal landscape? How long can you go without sleep? Who can dry their wet cloak fastest? more completely? Your pulse during meditation is what?! Can learning to meditate make your psoraisis better? (We read a paper by Jon Kabat-Zinn and co-workers on MBSR as a co-adjuvant to phototherapy for psoraisis.)

The author of is wary of these heroics and sees them as extragavances which were rightly curbed by monastic rules of life. Only a Cistercian of the Strict Observance would call the desert fathers "extravagant."

I'm less intrigued by the physiological side effects than I am by the sheer extravagance of it all. There is an extravagance, a sort of luxury, to the desert ascetics who threw themselves, for the most part without the protection a community affords, into the torrents of prayer, into the fire of God. It's like setting sail for England from Gloucester, MA in a rowboat — alone.

I have a memory of a small fishing dory in the musueum at Gloucester that I visited on one of the days of repose during the Exercises that made the trip, but can recall none of the details!

No comments:

Post a Comment