Sunday, August 19, 2012

A thought for Sunday

“When Thomas Merton first encountered the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he was later to live as a monk, he wrote, “I had wondered what was holding the country together, what has been keeping the universe from cracking in pieces and falling apart. . . This is the only city in America — and it is by itself, in the wilderness . . .” A monastery is a city in the ancient meaning of the word, as “civitas,” a place which stands for human culture in the largest sense, and exists to serve the common good. 

I have often had the odd feeling that the monastery is the real world, while the dog-eat-dog world that most people call “real” is in fact an artifice, an illusion that we cling to because it seems to be in our best interest to do so. The true city, the holy one, allows us, in the words of Paul Philibert, an alternative “vision of human relationships where beauty is more desirable than financial profit, friendship more precious than advantage, and solidarity in a common vision of human dignity more compelling than self-fulfillment.” a simple paraphrase of Dorotheus of Gaza — I’d much rather do things with others and have them come out wrong than do them by myself to make sure they come out right — demonstrates the distance between a monastic perspective and the modern American individualism that allows us to ignore a basic reality: human beings are remarkably dependent on one another."

-Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk

(photo: The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, New Mexico)

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