Saturday, September 27, 2008
The Non-Temptation of Unsaintly Catboxer
I'm pretty much alone here in the desert, kind of like St. Anthony, although my case is certainly less extreme than his was. The mercury still climbs past the 100 mark every day, even though it's *officially* fall, and there are very few people around. In the morning a golf cart goes by once in a while, but by the time the afternoon heat is at its peak there's not a soul to be seen, and the only sound is the wind in the palms. Even the birds are still.
Whether my solitude is by choice or necessity I can't really tell; Anthony's was self-imposed, because he wanted to be alone with God. Grace proved elusive, however, and was preceded by years of grueling mental torture, or "temptation" as Anthony's biographer Athanasius of Alexandria would have it. Alone in the Egyptian desert, isolated, and removed from any human habitation, Anthony was first afflicted with boredom, laziness, and incessant visions of naked women. These the saint overcame with constant intense prayer.
But the devil wasn't done with Anthony. Enraged that the hermit had neutralized his first attempt to break his will, the evil one attacked Anthony and beat him severely, mercilessly, and constantly.
The isolated psyche is the mind of a lunatic.
Local villagers who came to visit him in his cave found Anthony battered and unconscious, and carried him to the hamlet's church, where he spent some time recovering in the society of other humans.
Anthony refused to accept defeat, however, and returned to the desert, this time going even farther into the wilderness, and took up living in an abandoned Roman fort where he spent the next 20 years. There he was tortured by ferocious beasts, snakes, and scorpions, who threatened to rip him to pieces. But eventually he overcame all his trials, and found bliss.
I didn't ever plan to be alone in the desert, and don't intend to stay any longer than I have to. Any religious convictions I might have are considerably less intense than Anthony's, and even if they were more pronounced I don't think I'd be willing to undergo what he did to arrive at an unknown destination for unstated purposes.
I think I'll go back to civilization and hang out at coffee houses, where I can search for the meaning of life by conversing about it with other philosophically-inclined humans, preferably attractive, prosperous young females, although aging men of limited means like myself will certainly do as long as they're not idiots or blowhards. For I've experienced nothing here in the desert that could even remotely qualify as a temptation.
I think it was Aristotle who said that "In order to live in isolation, forsaking all human contact, one must either be a God or beast." This is another way of saying too much solitude makes us crazy.
Note: the oil painting painting "The Temptation of St. Anthony" is by Peter Howson. The saint's ordeals have been interpreted by many artists including Hieronymus Bosch (twice), Martin Schongauer, Matthias Grunewald, and Albrecht Durer, among others.