Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fish on dry land…

Abbot Anthony said: Just as fish die if they remain on dry land so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling with men of the world, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells, lest remaining outside we forget to watch over ourselves interiorly.

from Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, New Directions Publishing Corp., 1960

It seems to me that we who do not live in monastic communities, or as formal solitaries, and yet are called to the contemplative life, need to consider very carefully – and Lent is as good a time as any for this exercise – just what constitutes for us our cell, and what constitutes “dwelling with men of the world.” I’m sure that for most of us, “dwelling with men of the world” is something far more subtle than loose living or luxury. It may even be a church community that is for us, however good and nourishing it may be for others, antithetical to the contemplative life.

I expect we shall sometimes be misunderstood – though I am equally certain that we shall meet with love and understanding from often unexpected quarters – but we need to persist, gently, in obedience to God’s call.

It seems that for me at least, this Lent is to be just such a time of discernment. I should be grateful for your prayers as I struggle to make practical sense of God’s increasingly insistent call to draw closer to Christ in prayer and silence.


  1. Oh, contemplatives are some of my favourite people of all, Mike.

    A friend of mine who is a Buddhist was telling the other day about a biography she was reading of a Buddhist abbot heading up a monastery, who was feeling so encumbered by everything involved in the running of the monastery when all he wanted to do was retreat and meditate. His "men of the world" were men of the monastery, even!

    And so he did what he needed to do, following his own rhythms - he ran away. Managed to hide out for several years until they found him again one day and dragged him back to the monastery :)

  2. You shall have them with great pleasure

  3. Thank you, Sue - there are many of these stories, Christian and Buddhist (and who knows, other faiths as well?), about contemplative people who were made bishops, abbesses, and things like that against their will, and, at the first opportunity, beetled off back to the contemplative life. St Cuthbert would be a fine example! I've always loved the account of his return to the Farne Islands, where he had enacted the first bird protection laws in history! (see Wikipedia)

    Gaye, thank you for your prayers. It's very good indeed to meet you - I have subscribed to your blog, and I can't wait to see the rest of those Stations of the Cross!

  4. Bless him. Loved that story. I shall think of him when I sleep under my doona (thought I'm pretty sure it's not eiderdown :)