Lenten Reflection: Ch. 2 of Thoughts in Solitude

8 February 2008

Here Merton re-emphasizes the necessity of preserving our emotion and thereby our humanity when undertaking ascetic struggle.

So often, we give and get the impression that someone who has undertaken the disciplines, like fasting, referred to as ascetic somehow becomes unfeeling.  I fast, and therefore I do not desire or even like food.  I meditate, and therefore I do not desire or entertain thoughts that are not exclusively contemplative.  I pray, and therefore I do not desire or participate in anything that is not prayer.  Merton, in this early chapter, reminds us that this is folly.

An important thing to remember, I think, at the beginning of Lent.  It is no good to somehow become less yourself because of self-discipline.  Merton suggests that many ascetics and monastics have failed to become holy because their disciplines have eclipsed their humanity, their emotions have been obliterated by fasting, vigils, and other practices.  Consequently they are no longer human, and they have failed to become what God calls them to be.

He ends the chapter saying that ascetic disciplines are only successful if they leave us more able to feel and interact with our fellow humans.  The silent, unfeeling holy person is not holy at all.

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