The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton



Book Review:  A collection of anecdotal stories, parables, or sayings from the Hermits of Scete as collected by and scribed by Thomas Merton.  The Hermits formed an important thread in the fourth century by capturing Christian contemplation and prayer as they sought out solitude in the desert.

The humility and passion of these Hermits exceeds current day monasteries.  I like the story where one elder says “I have put out the flames of lust, and avarice, and vainglory.” The second elder says really?  After a series of questions about how how he has come to this conclusion, the second elder is able to say, after each inquiry, “You see, the passion is alive.  But it is bound.”

The latter draws out the challenges of living a holy life within our secular society today where we are bombarded with materialistic values or status pyramids that are devoid of any relation to our spiritual beliefs.

The book is really brief and has multiple very short entries that are worthy of contemplation and thought. In its simplicity it boils choices down to does this action bring me closer to God?

Thomas Merton says “We need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion, and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.”  Merton is not recommending we return to the desert and live as hermits.  He is recommending we return to the Gospels, to contemplation, to prayer, to discernment,  and transcend from where our elders have left off.

I am not a Merton scholar. Mysticism is often avoided by lay Catholics as a term, yet our faith is based on mystery of the trinity and the importance of prayer and contemplation.

His early writings are considered quite Orthodox. His later writings are viewed a little more suspiciously as he was exposed to Buddhist monks and found their prayer and his prayer had many similarities in depth and meaning.

This is why Catholicism, while embracing theologians, scholars, philosophy, and science always returns to its sacred roots of the the Gospels for guidance.  Does it bring you closer to God?

My answser for this book is yes.  Yours maybe different!

Here is a link to his multiple writings:




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