Connecting Ignatian Silence and Trappist Solitude

By early 2022, I found that words exhausted me. I longed for a fast from the collegiate world’s wearisome menu of producing and consuming words. It also seemed that my ability to hear God was lost in incessant, deafening verbiage. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, who on Mount Horeb looked for God in the powerful wind, the earthquake, and the fire, I had succumbed to the presumption that God is heard in those who are the loudest, the most eloquent, or the most rhetorically savvy.

Elijah ultimately found God, of course, neither in the loud, the overwhelming, nor in the conventionally powerful, but in “the sound of sheer silence” (19:12 NRSV). Looking for almost any occasion to stop the blitz of words, I envisioned a semester of silence and solitude. I petitioned my university for a semester’s release with the following elements: I would undertake the thirty-day Ignatian Spiritual Exercises retreat, which would require a month of rigorous silence. Then I would spend a week as a hermit alone in the woods of Kentucky, followed by four weeks at a Trappist monastery, whose tradition is known for its commitment to silence. The plan, in other words, was to experience three spiritualities of silence and solitude: Jesuit, eremitic, and cenobitic.

The university’s sabbatical committee graciously endorsed my unconventional proposal, and nearly a year after hatching the plan, it was time to embark on a venture that intrigued, if not confused, most everyone who heard of it. The confusion was contagious, for by the time I departed for the Jesuit’s Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the whole idea of relocating to New England in midwinter to live quietly among strangers seemed absurd to me as well. What had I gotten myself into? On New Year’s Day, forty-eight hours before departing Nashville for Boston, I noted in my journal an overwhelming sense of alarm, trepidation, and foreboding. “Stressed. Restless. Unable to sleep,” I confided. “What if after thirty days I find no clarity? What if February 6 looks just like January 3? Then again, what if February 6 looks profoundly different than January 3? Can I even live a different life should I happen to discern one?” For a pilgrimage in search of silence and stillness, I managed to pack plenty of dis-ease and agitation.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, began crafting his Spiritual Exercises in 1523 during a year of solitude and prayer in a cave at Manresa, Spain. Over the next quarter century, he drew upon that experience as he refined the text. Beyond a cursory reading of the Bible or a mastery of factual information, Ignatius’s goal in the Exercises was to help believers “know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensively, so that one will follow Jesus more closely” by praying with key moments in the life of Christ. “Nothing is more central in Ignatian spirituality,” Monika Hellwig notes, “than this sense of intimate companionship with Jesus.” Toward that deeper, more robust, and intimate communion with the Divine Majesty, Ignatius called for exercitants to work with a spiritual director, dedicating thirty days exclusively to the Exercises. Gerald Fagin has described how during these days a process of growth proceeds sequentially through four stages: “(1) an experience of being loved by God unconditionally, (2) an experience of being forgiven, (3) an experience of being called to be a disciple of Jesus, and (4) an experience of entering into the Christian mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus.” This way of connecting with God, revolutionary in his sixteenth-century moment, continues to speak to today’s world as disciples work at “entering into the mind and intentions of Jesus” so that they might serve the world and aid others more faithfully.[1]

The Exercises include numerous themes for contemplation, and one of the most compelling and challenging meditations comes in the fourth week with what Ignatius outlined as the “Contemplation on the Love of God” or “Contemplation to Attain Love.” This four-part reflection, placed at the end of the Spiritual Exercises, serves as a review or summary of the previous weeks. Michael Buckley suggests that at this point in the Exercises, we are learning to love God for who and for what God is: “God is not finally [or simply] loved because God is good toward me. God is to be loved because he is good in himself . . . [i.e.,] for what God is.” [2] In other words, as we glimpse—due to a more mature and intimate knowledge—something of the infinite depth and immeasurable breadth of God’s love, we begin to love God in more thoroughgoing ways. This communion with the loving God leads us to a love manifested in radical, self-abnegating surrender, to a love more like God’s own. It is fitting, then, that as we emerge from this contemplation, Ignatius provides his classic Suscipe, perhaps his best-known and most recited prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will—all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that is enough for me.[3]

In this Ignatian contemplation, we learn to find God in all things, and, as Jim Manney writes, “If you’re looking for the beating heart of Ignatian spirituality, here it is.” God, in Ignatian contemplation, is encountered in far more places than the few prescribed holy sites that we commonly mislabel as sacred. Our omnipresent God radically permeates and suffuses our world, which we discern if and when we know how to contemplate. This is a holistic, sacramental understanding of contemplation. “By sacrament,” Ignatian scholar Michael Himes writes, “I mean any person, place, thing, or event, any sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell, that causes us to notice the love which supports all that exists, that undergirds your being and mine and the being of everything about us. . . . The number [of sacraments] is virtually infinite, as many as there are things in the universe.” Let us, therefore, contemplate “how there is nothing that cannot be a sacrament, absolutely nothing.” Or, in the poetic words of the great Jesuit bard Gerard Manley Hopkins, let us savor how “Christ plays in ten thousand places.”[4]

Once emptied of self and attuned to God, contemplation finds God in profoundly new ways, places, and peoples, which further incites an awe-inspired, selfless love toward the omnipotent, omnipresent God. Yet this love opens not only toward God, but also toward the broader, more encompassing world. The greater one’s love and union with God, the greater one’s love of and engagement with the world. 

Indeed, this is Ignatius’s central invitation to the exercitant in the Exercises. From the beginning of time, the ever-creating I Am has lovingly reworked everything—all that is transcendent and immanent—and has rewritten the totality of history and human experience, all with an eye toward an intimate communion with each and every beloved individual. In return, Ignatius asks exercitants to dedicate a month of untold silent and solitary hours contemplating this love of God, a love manifested in Jesus and erupting everywhere in the world. Out of this experience, an intimate friendship with Jesus emerges whereby the exercitant discovers a measure of what it can be like both to see as God sees and to love as God loves.

Such love gives rise to another classic expression of Ignatian spirituality, that is, contemplation and action. One of Ignatius’s closest associates, Jerome Nadal, coined the phrase to describe Ignatius as a “contemplative [who was] at the same time in action. This is someone who can continually reflect on God’s presence while they are fully engaged in the affairs of the world.” Thus, the phrase contemplation and action has often served as a helpful way to think about Ignatian spirituality. As Joseph Tetlow suggests, the more we know God via the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, “the more we love him. The more we love him, the more freely we enter into his heart and mind.” We discern what drove and sustained Jesus in his public ministry. In so doing, Jesus’s heart and mind informs and transforms ours. We learn to “go where Jesus went, and to love as he loved.”[5] Therefore, intimately seeing and intensively experiencing Jesus’s self-emptying, self-abnegating love—his kenosis—through contemplation both transforms us and our loving engagement of the world.

On a beautiful New England Sunday afternoon our community of some two dozen exercitants gathered in the stately Fireplace Room of the Eastern Point Retreat House to begin drawing our time together to a close. We discussed, for instance, how our days of rigorous contemplation would inform and direct our action going forward. Despite the serious misgivings I had before embarking upon this retreat, by this point I had developed a deep admiration for my fellow silent pilgrims and the lifegiving genius of Ignatius’s nearly five-hundred-year-old Spiritual Exercises. The hospitable and devoutly silent community was a heaven-sent gift. Many of the group were young novices from various Catholic orders exploring their respective vocations. A few others were women and men religious, seeking to reaffirm their decades-old vocational calling and commitment.

The room’s large bow window offered a picturesque view of a placid Atlantic Ocean that February day. The bitter cold of January was releasing its grip. Moreover, the retreat director lifted our vow of silence. Even though we had been on site for several weeks, all felt new. We had lived and prayed in stark silence, speaking only to our respective spiritual directors, or when providing liturgical responses during Mass. And yet, a contemplative community had emerged in that silence, one whose centripetal force—the gravity that pulled it together—was a common love and intimacy with Jesus and for the world. What began, at least for me, in hesitancy, reservation, and suspicion had blossomed into what the Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade celebrated as abandonment to the loving God.[6] This could not have occurred on my own—these weeks were a gift that required both the providential vision of Ignatius’s work and a silent community in which to pray for hours, days, and weeks. The sessions on this day and the next may have concluded our time at Eastern Point, but my pilgrimage of silence and solitude was far from done. After a brief stint at home and an eremitic week in the woods of Kentucky, I departed for Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist community near Charleston, South Carolina.

The Jesuits and the Trappists share several attributes. Both have contributed substantially to church history, and especially the Roman Catholic tradition. Both are committed to an intimate communion with God. Both value silence and solitude. Moreover, Eastern Point and Mepkin Abbey are among the most visually striking places I have had the pleasure to experience—Eastern Point offers stunning sunrises, and Mepkin, glorious sunsets.

Yet the differences between the two are significant. Benedict of Nursia’s sixth-century rule serves as a foundation for the Cistercians, but not for the Society of Jesus.[7] Additionally, the five-hundred-year-old Jesuits have an active or apostolic charism, with silence and solitude used—as I experienced at Eastern Point—to prepare one for deep involvement in the world. There is, therefore, no such thing as a Jesuit monastery; Ignatian spirituality is to be lived in the world. For the one-thousand-year-old Cistercian tradition, by contrast, the monastery is central. “To become a Cistercian,” André Louf explains, requires both living in a monastery and cutting oneself off from the world. Or as Thomas Merton puts it, the “basic essentials” of the Cistercian’s contemplative life are “silence, separation from the world, the spirit of prayer, austerity, sacrifice, solitude, simplicity, humility, and hiddenness” from the world.[8]

Drawing upon Christian monasticism’s roots in the desert tradition of the fourth century, Cistercians intentionally disconnect from the world and the prevailing culture. In so doing, they organize their communal life around “silence and prayer, seeking God in a single-hearted way,” Michael Downey explains, so as “to order the whole of their lives for the purpose of living in the deepest kind of communion with the mystery of the living God.” Contemplation, therefore, works to “divest” oneself of the world so that one might focus on God alone.[9]

While living, praying, and working at the abbey, I experienced a measure of this Cistercian detachment and withdrawal. Knowledge of the outside world was limited. Days were filled with ora (the seven hours of prayer, starting with vigils at four in the morning and concluding with compline at seven thirty in the evening) and labora (working in the monastery’s mushroom production). Being cloistered felt a bit like a study abroad experience inasmuch as the rhythms and disciplines of the Trappists’ distinctive culture required cognitive and lifestyle adjustments. And although I initially found it disorienting, the intentional design and ethos of Cistercian withdrawal soon became clear—the goal was not to get away from it all but to “remove many of the difficulties of life in the world, and indeed from many of its joys also—home and family, the social and political scene.” Such a countercultural place with its “stark simplicity” of silence and solitude “concentrates one’s whole being, and all one’s strength on the warfare of the heart.” The monk comes to the monastery, in other words, not for ease, relaxation, peace, and quiet but for a “never-ending battle with evil.”[10] Long formed in and by the world, such detachment from media, occupation, and familial responsibilities—not to mention that never-ending battle with the enemy—is a mystifying shock to one’s social, intellectual, and spiritual psyche.

On one level, this kind of desert withdrawal from the world is biblically sensible—the Bible frequently tells of disciples encountering God in the wilderness. Recall, for instance, the biographies of Jacob, Moses, and Elijah. Just after Jesus’s baptism, God’s spirit sent Jesus into the desert. It was a time of preparation for Jesus’s forthcoming ministry. It was also a context to commune with God, to battle the demonic, all without the cacophony of society and its misleading, competing noise.  

But physical and social withdrawal can also strike us as negligent and irresponsible. William Edward Hartpole Lecky may have been extreme in his condemnation, but his criticisms are nonetheless common: “There is, perhaps, no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic.” A monk is a “hideous, sordid, and emaciated maniac, without natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his delirious brain.” Monasticism, Lecky surmised, is an irresponsible abandoning of the world by those contemplatives who lack “good humor, frankness, generosity, active courage, sanguine energy, and buoyancy of temper” and who succumb to “artificial emasculation by penances.”[11]

Downey, well familiar with such indictments of antiworld monasticism, sarcastically joined the condemnation, noting how instead of throwing his or her life away, a monastic contemplative could honor God and serve the world by becoming “a university professor or a nurse,” true and faithful callings. The contemplative, however, has squandered her or his life in passive and apathetic living. In a world plagued with misery and suffering, “what good comes of a life spent hidden behind the walls of a monastery? Did not Christ command us to love our neighbors as ourselves? Why not do something with your life? What a waste! Prayers at three o’clock in the morning! What’s the point? What good does that do?” Are we really supposed to believe that “singing psalms seven times a day, every single day does anyone any good? Does it make any real difference?”[12] 

Merton countered these points by explaining that “what matters about the monastery is precisely that it is radically different from the world. The apparent ‘pointlessness’ of the monastery in the eyes of the world is exactly” that which gives the monastery its raison d’être. “In a world of noise, confusion, and conflict, it is necessary that there be places of silence, inner discipline, and peace; not the peace of mere relaxation but the peace of inner clarity and love based on ascetic renunciation.” Although we are taught to state our objectives and prove our outcomes, faithful discipleship is not contingent upon any product one provides to the world. In fact, what “counts is not to count.” Embrace uselessness, Merton seems to suggest. In the Cistercian charism it is perfectly appropriate that the world be unaware of the monastery’s existence. The contemplative should be an odd, perplexing, illogical stranger—even an apparent traitor—to the world. “It is characteristic of the world to make its citizens want to be successful, to make an impression, to have a high market value,” Merton warned. “But the things that a monk seeks” will never sync with the world’s market mentality. The world demands relevance, efficiency, and effectiveness. The monk, however, is “not for sale.”[13]

Again, it might appear that Ignatius and Merton—Ignatian and Cistercian charisms—view the world differently, even antithetically. I too questioned whether the Cistercians live in antipathy toward the world, while the Jesuits have a far more positive appreciation of, and love for, the neighbor. Clearly the monastery is detached from the world, but is it an asylum for calloused misanthropes? This seemed implausible given the loving, compassionate, sacrificial men I found in the Mepkin community. Still, how does one reconcile the language of desert, detachment, and withdrawal with love, concern, and service to the world?

Occasionally, Merton tried to contest popular presumptions that he and his fellow Cistercians hated and abandoned the world. “I have myself become a sort of stereotype of the world-denying contemplative,” he acknowledged. He knew of the negative caricature that depicted him as “the man who spurned New York, spat on Chicago, and tromped on Louisville, heading for the woods with Thoreau in one pocket, John of the Cross in another, [all while] holding the Bible open at the Apocalypse.” To correct the record, Merton joked, “I drink beer whenever I can lay my hands on any. I love beer and, by that very fact, the world.”[14] If only all Christian apologetics were so clear and enjoyable.

To avoid the binary trap in which the Jesuits embrace the world while the Cistercians denounce it, it is important to appreciate three Greek terms definitive for the contemplative tradition, that is, anachoresis, askesis, and agape.[15]

In the late ancient era, anachoresis was a common term with multiple applications and uses. According to William Harmless, it could mean withdrawing “from any of a range of things,” including tax evasion. In time, though, it acquired a “religious meaning: that one had ‘withdrawn from the world.’” Historically, the poster boy for anachoresis is Antony of Egypt, the fourth-century social influencer who promoted and personified “the paradoxical task of a withdrawal that often leads to a deeper engagement” with the world. Indeed, monastic “withdrawal from the world was not meant to be an abdication of responsibility for others, rather a redirection of the love command into . . . a more positive direction. The monk withdrew in order to return, though on a new and transformed level.” Hence, Antony, “the exemplary ‘withdrawer,’” was what “Jewish and Islamic mysticism would call a ‘pillar of the world.’” Indeed, Antony’s anachoresis was neither selfish nor escapist, explains Kallistos Ware. Antony withdrew into the desert to “achieve union with God” and to fight his demons. Instead of running away from that which bedeviled him, Antony “advanced to meet it. . . . Thus, there is nothing self-centered in Antony’s act of anachoresis.” Such withdrawal enabled Antony to serve as a spiritual “physician” (i.e., a mentor, director, or guide) to the world of his time. Whether considering Antony or other monastic contemplatives, the “rationale of ascetic anachoresis,” finds Ware, “is concisely summed up by St. Seraphim of Sarov: ‘Acquire the spirit of peace [via anachoresis], and then thousands around you will be saved.’”[16] The benevolent paradox of Antony’s anachoresis is that he manifested his love for the world by leaving it.

The inextricable link connecting anachoresis and askesis is historically clear. Instead of abandoning, running away from, or escaping the world, askesis requires the long labor of self-impeachment whereby the ascetic withdraws from the world to confront and correct the real problem, which happens to be the self, more than the world. “In this monastic way the self is decentered,” Downey explains. Detached from the world, the hard ascetic work of “relentless de-selfing and de-egoization” can occur, where “the self is at once defined and dissolved.” As Burton-Christie explains, askesis means “facing up to all those anomalous forces at work in the depths of the psyche, forces which are usually kept at bay by the noise and distractions of everyday life but which, in the space of solitude, make their presence felt with alarming intensity.”[17] Even today, in such communities as Mepkin Abbey, withdrawal, detachment, and asceticism are not acts of antiworld masochistic privation, as so many might presume. Rather, such contemplative deserts—be they in Egypt or South Carolina—provide a vital path of purgation, a kind of waterless baptism, removing the old culturally contrived identity, and opening the possibility for the birth of a disciple who has learned to love as God loves (agape)—what Merton called the true self.

Here, Merton is most lucid. Cistercian detachment and withdrawal are not about abandoning the world so that the monk can then, and only then, be good enough, or pure enough, to secure God’s love. Detachment and withdrawal are instead “a profound and self-oblative expression of freedom.” “The charism of the monastic life is not a denunciation, not a denigration, not a precipitous flight, [not] a resentful withdrawal, but a liberation,” Merton counseled. Therefore, “the purpose of monastic detachment” is to love. It may appear that the apostolic or active vocation operates from one charism (Jesuit), and the monastic life from another (Cistercian). Yet “the two are not opposed or mutually exclusive. They are complementary,” explained Merton. Indeed, “they turn out to be one and the same: union with God in the mystery of total love.”[18] For the contemplative, agape (the self-emptying love of God for the world) is the telos (i.e., the end, goal, or conclusion) of anachoresis(withdrawal) and askesis(sacrifice, discipline).

One of the best-known episodes of Merton’s life illustrates the point. On March 18, 1958, while in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, Merton was at the corner of Fourth and Walnut. There he experienced a numinous—perhaps sacramental—moment when he suddenly realized his unqualified love for all those around him. Certainly, he was surrounded by strangers. Nonetheless, “they were mine and I was theirs.” How did he come to such an epiphany? “It is in fact,” Merton discerned, “the function of solitude” and contemplative withdrawal “to make one realize such things with clarity.” Withdrawing into Gethsemani’s enclosure, contemplating God, and practicing the disciplines of silence and solitude for seventeen years enabled Merton to love his neighbors with the love of God, for as one grows in intimate union with God, one grows closer in love to all people.[19]

Love the world, serving it by silence, stillness, and solitude. This is the liberation from the onslaught of words and the hope for which I searched when launching out on this pilgrimage. The Ignatian tradition tells of God, who longs for and who has made possible an enduring intimate communion with all those who likewise search for an intensive relationship with the Divine Majesty—a relationship in which we learn to love like God loves and to love what God loves. The Cistercian tradition, emphasizing anachoresis and its withdrawal from the ways and wants of the world, espouses a relationship with God that comes via humble silence and God-focused solitude and stillness. Far from selfish or narcissistic, such silent anachoresis is a faithful expression of agape toward one’s neighbors. Silence, stillness, and solitude can, in other words, be one’s job, one’s calling, one’s loving service for the world.[20] Sometimes the best way to love the world is to leave it.[21]

[1] Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, §104; Hellwig, “Finding God in All Things: A Spirituality for Today,” in An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, ed. George Traub (Chicago, IL: Loyola, 2008), 53; and Fagin, Discovering Your Dream: How Ignatian Spirituality Can Guide Your Life (Chicago, IL: Loyola, 2013), 41–42.

[2] Buckley, “The Contemplation to Attain Love,” Way 24 (Spring 1975): 104. Also see Spiritual Exercises, §230–37.

[3] Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, §234. This translation is from George E. Ganss, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992), 95.

[4] Manney, Ignatian Spirituality A to Z (Chicago, IL: Loyola, 2017), 44; Himes, “‘Finding God in All Things’: A Sacramental Worldview and Its Effects,” in As Leaven in the World: Catholic Perspectives on Faith, Vocation, and the Intellectual Life, ed. Thomas Landy (Franklin, WI: Sheed and Ward, 2001), 99; and Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (London, UK: Penguin Classics, 1985),

[5] Nadal quoted in Manney, Ignatian Spirituality, 46–47; emphasis in the original; and Tetlow, Making Choices in Christ: The Foundations of Ignatian Spirituality (Chicago, IL: Loyola, 2008), 27–28.

[6] See Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, trans. E. Strickland (New York, NY: Cosimo, 2007).

[7] Although the Trappists are a reform movement within Cistercian history, so that not all Cistercians are Trappists, in this piece I will use Trappist and Cistercian interchangeably.

[8] Louf, The Cistercian Way (Gethsemani, KY: Cistercian, 1983), 45; also see 50; and Merton, Cistercian Life (Conyers, GA: Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Abbey, 2001), 35.

[9] Downey, Trappist: Living in the Land of Desire (New York, NY: Paulist, 1997), 24. Also see Merton, Merton’s Early Essays: 1947–1952, ed. Patrick F. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2015), 5–6. As Downey describes, the definitive trait of the monastic is this single-minded focus: “The monk wants God, just God and God alone” (Trappist, 78).

[10] Louf, The Cistercian Way, 59.

[11] Lecky, History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne, vol. 2 (London, UK: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1869), 114 and 131–32.

[12] Downey, Trappist, 73 and 140. Matthew Kelty of the Abbey of Gethsemani makes a similar point when he confesses, “It’s bad enough that we make cheese and fruitcake for the Kingdom of God. We do worse than that, we sing. We sing songs for the Kingdom—seven times a day—for ourselves and for the world. How practical?” (Kelty quoted in “Abbey of Gethsemani – Introduction.wmv,” Br Lawrence Morey, March 12, 2011, video, 7:43,

[13] Merton, “Cistercian Life,” 5–6 and 42. Merton also indicates that “the monk is valuable to the world precisely in so far as he is not part of” the world (7). He affirms how the “need for a certain distance from the world does not make the monk love the world less.” See Merton, “The Monastic Renewal,” in Thomas Merton: Selected Essays, ed. Patrick F. O’Connell (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 386–87.

[14] Merton, “Is the World a Problem?” in Contemplation in a World of Action (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), 141–42.

[15] Douglas Burton-Christie, “The Work of Loneliness: Solitude, Emptiness, and Compassion,” Anglican Theological Review 88 (Winter 2006): 31.

[16] Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 64; Bernard McGinn, “Withdrawal and Return: Reflections on Monastic Retreat from the World,” Spiritus 6 (Fall 2006): 154 and 151–52; and Ware, “The Way of Ascetics: Negative or Affirmative?” in Asceticism, eds. Vincent Wimbush and Richard Valantasis (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 6–8; emphasis added.

[17] Downey, Trappist, 116 and 123; and Burton-Christie, “The Work of Loneliness,” 33. So why withdrawal from the world (anachoresis)? Because “true contemplation means the complete destruction of selfishness” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation [New York, NY: New Directions, 1961], 43). See also Belden Lane, who notes that the desert is the place to destroy self-illusion and deception. “Here the will—not the world—is abandoned so that the compulsive ego dies” (The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality [New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998], 160–76).

[18] Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, ed. William H. Shannon (New York, NY: Harper One, 2003), 58–60; and Merton, “The Monastic Renewal,” in Thomas Merton: Selected Essays, 393 and 399. See also Merton, “The Spiritual Father in the Desert Tradition,” in Thomas Merton: Selected Essays, where he explains how the “true purpose of the monastic life” is “detachment from self,” and the three things the monk seeks to eradicate are “self-will, self-justification, and the desire to please” (326). In fact, a lifelong quest in the monastery is “a complete substitution of God’s will for the will of the individual ego” (327). Here one might consider Ignatius’s Suscipe mentioned above.

[19] Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 156–58. John Teahan explores the correlation of the “solitariness of God” and the solitary’s ability to love. In the same way that the “Eucharistic Christ is not isolated since he gives himself to all,” so “the solitary, like God, remains alone yet still accessible, apart from the world yet a [loving] servant to it and for it” (“Solitude: A Central Motif in Thomas Merton’s Life and Writings,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 50 [December 1982]: 528–29).

[20] See Merton, “Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude,” in Thomas Merton: Selected Essays, 81.

[21] A word of thanks to Andrew Radde-Gallwitz for his insightful feedback on an early draft of this essay.