[발표/논문] Is Desert Spirituality Viable in the 21st Century City?: The Legacy of the Desert Fathers in Thomas Merton영성공부/Thomas Merton 2013.04.02 13:34
아래의 글은 지난 2011년 제12회 국제토마스머튼학회에서 발표한 글이다. 이 원고를 조금 수정한 글이 "Is Desert Spirituality Viable in the 21st Century City?"라는 제목으로 The Merton Annual 25 에 게재되었는데, 그것을 pdf파일로 첨부한다.
The Twelfth General Meeting and Conference of the International Thomas Merton Society
Loyola University, Chicago
June 9-12, 2011
Desert Spirituality in the 21st Century City:
The Legacy of the Desert Fathers in Thomas Merton
Nowadays, most people, especially those in advanced and developing countries, live in secular cities. Though an increasing number of city people have an earnest desire for spirituality, solitude, meditation and contemplation, the truth is that most cannot leave the cities for lengthy periods – to enter into the desert, woods, monastery or retreat center–like Henry David Thoreau, to lead a spiritual life. Then, is it impossible for present-day urban dwellers to lead spiritual lives in these secular cities which have become darkened by collectivism and hyperactivism?
Merton was deeply influenced by the spirituality of the Desert Fathers, who entered into the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia in the fourth and fifth centuries. The words and the ways of the Desert Fathers are not rigid but rather flexible and adaptable, according to each specific circumstance. Then, how can the legacies of the Desert Fathers in Thomas Merton help contemporary city people lead a spiritual life?
First, one of the greatest contributions of Thomas Merton for today’s desert spirituality is his grasp of the existential meaning of the desert. Merton believed that one’s real desert is not merely an earthly location but an existential place in the human heart, in which a person faces one’s own weaknesses and limitations without any comfort or support from human cities. In addition, he discloses the destructive power of today’s deserts and cities. He intensely deplored that people destroyed wilderness, which God has blessed, with glittering towns that spring up overnight in the desert. The desert is then changed from a place where human beings cannot live without God’s help, to a land promised by the devil where they can live on their own resources–money and technology–and without depending on God. Therefore, Merton contends that in today’s context, “the desert itself moves everywhere.” Everywhere is desert. This means that whether people live in cities or the wilderness, they can find their own desert in each place where they face their limitations and vulnerabilities and must rely on God. From his understanding of John Cassian, Merton said that living in the desert means dwelling alone in the vast emptiness of total solitude. Humans can reach their own real desert only with the guidance of God. It is a journey through where there is no way, darkness, and emptiness.
Second, such emptiness is “an abyss of creativity,” in which the true self emerges. As shown well in the Life of Antony, the warfare with demons was an important aspect of the desert life; it is a way of a monk’s spiritual formation. Benedicta Ward, editor of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, points out, “The desert itself was the place of the final warfare against the devil, and the monks were ‘sentries who keep watch on the walls of the city.’” Also, according to Peter Brown, renowned historian, for the desert monks the demons were “sensed as an extension of the self.” In this sense, Merton grasped that the ascetic life in the desert had spiritual and psychological dimensions. Confronting demons means confronting one’s own false and empirical self. The life of sacrifice in the desert led the Fathers to transcend, from an attachment to the unreal value of the self, to an emergence of hidden reality of the self. Thus, Thomas Merton thought that a life of sacrifice in the desert enables “the old superficial self to be purged away and permitted the gradual emergence of the true, secret self.’” A crucial way to awaken this true self is to reject “diversion,”  which the human society systematically provides its citizens. In his essay, “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude,” Merton offers the concept of “diversion” from Blaise Pascal’s “divertissement,” which refers to amusement or systematic distraction. People plunge into a crowd, searching for diversions to avoid encounters with reality, because the way to the encounter is through the arid and dreadful desert. Therefore, one needs the courage to fight the demon, that is, to face one’s false self in the arid desert and to reject diversion, for example, switching TV channels or clicking the computer mouse to find “fresh amusement” in an illusory space.
Also, the ways of living of the Desert Fathers and Thomas Merton are very different from that of most people in cities, not only because of their peculiar lifestyles but also because of their rejection of conformity to sensual materialism and the herd mentality of cities. Merton asserts, “The desert life was a life of non-conformity, it was a protest.”  Though they left their cities in search of solitude, they did not disconnect themselves from other human beings. According to Merton, “The Desert fathers met the ‘problems of their time’ in the sense that they were among the few who were ahead of their time, and opened the way for the development of a new man and a new society.” Such rejection and acceptance were rooted in profound charity, out of which the men participated in the world with their contemplative and prophetic voice. In his poem “Macarius and the Pony,” Merton implies that one of the precious fruits of the desert life is the ability to see others as they really are. Such clear eyes are an important aspect of desert compassion, and he believed that there could be no compassion without solitude because people paradoxically escape from others by plunging into a crowd. Therefore, he urges his readers to “[g]o into the desert not to escape other men but in order to find them in God.” In this sense, Merton names his new desert compassion.
Finally, the desert is a place where ineffable spiritual experiences flow from spiritual masters to seekers. Merton understood that the Abba or spiritual Father in the desert was someone who had learned the secrets of desert life and so cared that the mysterious seeds of contemplation could truly grow and flourish in his disciples. Merton highly appreciated the Fathers’ life-giving teachings. He not only pointed out that for the discovery of inner solitude one may need such a spiritual director, but he also embodied the Fathers’ life-giving teachings as a master of scholastics and novices. Merton thought that the idea of spiritual fatherhood in the Desert Father tradition and the Russian tradition needed to be recovered, not only for his own teaching, but also for monastic renewal.
Consequently, Merton was a person who revived desert spirituality in the twentieth century and was himself a revived Desert Father in a world of technology. Desert spirituality is not only possible in urban life, but is also helpful in saving city people from being deserted by the pressure of modern city life and the obsession over human technology. According to William Harmless, a researcher on early monasticism, it was from the bustling city of Alexandria “that the literature of the desert was first disseminated, and it was through Alexandria that pilgrims…would pass.” The city was a gateway to the desert, and the seedlings of desert spirituality were planted and bore fruit in the city. The desert needs a city, and the city needs a desert.
The essence of the way of desert life exists not in its external lifestyle but in its spirit, which rejects sensual materialism and the herd mentality of cities and pursues the perfect Christian life of renunciation and the ideal of silence, solitude, and direct dependence on God. Therefore, for contemporary city dwellers, to practice the way of desert life in a city means to embody the spirit of it in their own context. In sum, today’s city people can embody desert spirituality by dwelling in the emptiness of solitude, facing the false self by rejecting diversion, rejecting and accepting the world out of compassion, and giving and receiving life-giving teaching. They can contribute to an inner transformation of their society by making their city a desert like the early Egyptian monks who made the desert a city.
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 Benedicta Ward, introduction to The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, trans. Benedicta Ward (London: Penguin Books, 2003), xix.
 Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 27, 92.
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, (New York: The Noonday Press, 1994), 19-20.
 Thomas Merton, Cassian and the Fathers: Initiation into the Monastic Tradition, ed. Patrick F. O’Connell, Monastic Wisdom Series 1 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2005), 30-31, 203.
 Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (New York, New Directions, 1966), 71.
 Benedicta Ward, foreword to The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publication, 1984), xxv-xxvi.
Thomas Merton, introduction to The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century (London: Shambhala, 2004), 7.
 Thomas Merton, “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude,” in Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), 139-40. In this essay, Merton deals primarily with monastic life but also broadens the readership to the general population. Merton wrote a note on this essay’s title, “This could also properly be called a ‘Philosophy of Monastic Life…However…I am speaking of the solitary spirit which is really essential to the monastic view of life, but which is not confined to monasteries…the ‘solitary’ of these pages…may well be a layman, and of the sort most remote from cloistered life.”
 Robert E. Daggy, introduction to Day of a Stranger (Salt Lake City: UT, Gibbs M. Smith, 1981), 11.
 Thomas Merton, The Springs of Contemplation: A Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, ed. Jane Marie (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1992), 110-11.
 Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings from the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century, 2-3.
 Patrick F. O’Connell, “More Wisdom of the Desert: Thomas Merton’s Macarius Poems,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2005): 264.
 Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1981), 334.
 Thomas Merton, “The Spiritual Father in the Desert Tradition,” in Contemplation in a World of Action, 269-93 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971), 271.
 William Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 4.
 Athanasius, Athanasius: The life of Antony and The letter to Marcellinus, trans. Robert c. Gregg, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 14.