The Wisdom of the Desert (New Directions)
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The Wisdom of the Desert was one of Thomas Merton's favorites among his own books―surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit.
The personal tones of the translations, the blend of reverence and humor so characteristic of him, show how deeply Merton identified with the legendary authors of these sayings and parables, the fourth-century Christian Fathers who sought solitude and contemplation in the deserts of the Near East.
The hermits of Screte who turned their backs on a corrupt society remarkably like our own had much in common with the Zen masters of China and Japan, and Father Merton made his selection from them with an eye to the kind of impact produced by the Zen mondo.
them the meaning of this or that text. Each one replied as best he could, but Abbot Anthony said to them: You have not got it yet. After them all he asked Abbot Joseph: What about you? What do you say this text means? Abbot Joseph replied: I know not! Then Abbot Anthony said: Truly Abbot Joseph alone has found the way, for he replies that he knows not. LXXIX JOHN of Thebes said: The monk must be before all else humble. This is the first commandment of the Lord, who said: Blessed are the poor of
going back to his cell, began to wrestle with his own thoughts, saying: I wonder if the Father gave me his blessing or not? Rising up, he went back to the Father, inquiring of him and saying: In God’s name, tell me the truth, because I am all upset over these two pence. The elder said to him: Since I saw your thoughts and your desire to keep them, I told you to keep them. But it is not good to keep more than we need for our body. Now these two pence are your hope. If they should be lost, would
enough for you. But they said: We want to hear something also from you, Father. The elder answered them: You have heard the Lord say: If a man strikes you on the left cheek, show him also the other one. They said to him: This we cannot do. He said to them: If you can’t turn the other cheek, at least take it patiently on one of them. They replied: We can’t do that either. He said: If you cannot even do that, at least do not go striking others more than you would want them to strike you. They said:
soldier replied and said: No. I will mend it and put it back on. The elder said to him: If you take care of your cloak, will God not be merciful to His own image? CXL ONCE Abbot Sylvanus went away from his cell for a while, and his disciple Zachary with the other brethren moved back the garden fence and enlarged the garden. And when the elder came back and saw this he picked up his sheepskin and prepared to leave. But they fell at his feet and begged him to tell them why he was doing this. The
was innocent. For it was the young man next door who got me in this condition. Then he who had helped me, hearing this, was filled with joy and came to tell me all about it and to ask me to pardon them all. Hearing this, and fearing that people would come and bother me, I quickly made off and came to this place. Such was the cause of my coming to this part of the world. 1. Salt was used to season dry bread. 2. “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” This is the basis for the “Prayer of Jesus,”