Reading Butler’s Lives of the Saints, I come across a passage on St Pambo, an Egyptian monk (c.390) thought to be a disciple of St Antony. I was struck by the following passage:

“His life was typical of the desert monks: hard manual labour, long fasts and physical penance, and sustained periods of prayer. Pambo was especially noted for his silence and a reluctance to speak any more than was necessary, seeing in control of the tongue a basic first step towards a deeper spirituality; he is said to have meditated on this verse from the Psalms for six months: ‘I will watch how I behave, and not let my tongue lead me into sin’ (Ps. 39:1). On the other hand, he had a broader outlook than many of his colleagues in the desert and did not believe their way of life was necessarily the best; he settled an argument between to monks as to which was more perfect, becoming a monk or staying in the world and doing works of mercy, by saying: ‘Before God both are perfect. There are other roads to perfection besides being a monk.'” (18 July, Butler’s Lives of the Saints)

thomasmerton

“I stuck with Merton, and my patience has been rewarded a thousandfold. He’s the only writer I read pretty much every day. There’s a small Book of Hours that never fails to inspire me. The main thing that’s so wonderful about him is his love of nature and his ebullience. And his need to constantly interrogate himself. And his extraordinary humility. And his exquisite facility with language.”

— Nicola Barker, The Guardian

The Decisive Years

From Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (translated by Shelley Frisch):

Asceticism was a magic word for Kafka, an intricate complex of images, cultural paradigms, idiosyncrasies, fears, and psychological techniques that he incorporated into his thought that feelings and gradually made a focal point of his identity. He was entirely justified in asserting that he had ‘a fabulous innate capacity for asceticism’. It is remarkable how tenaciously he clung to the rule of self-abjuration once his period of dawdling came to an end. The way he steadfastly denied himself warmth, meat, drugs, and medicine clearly refutes his alleged weakness of will. He reduced his good intake, toughened his body, and simplified his habits. […]

Asceticism is not austerity for its own sake; it is a process of self-regulation and self-formation based on the utopian notion of attaining complete control over one’s body, self, and life. All Kafka’s interests, habits, and penchants were modified accordingly. A diet of nuts and fruits, a flawless method of chewing, devotion to calisthenics, and long walks. He cultivated and shaped his body. He gained awareness of his body as well. He felt a growing aversion to and even loathing for everything that threatened to undermine his new sense of autonomy, especially doctors who treated his body as though they were plumbers, and medicines that had unanticipated side effects. He contended that it was degrading to battle insomnia with valerian: his insomnia was not caused by a lack of valerian.
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