Are monks and hippies and poets relevant? No, we are deliberately irrelevant. We live with an ingrained irrelevance which is proper to every human being. The marginal [person] accepts the basic irrelevance of the human condition, an irrelevance which is manifested above all by the fact of death. The marginal person, the monk, the displaced person, the prisoner, all these people live in the presence of death, and the office of the monk or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.
Thomas Merton. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin, editors. New York: New Directions Press, 1969: 306.
A couple of nights ago over dinner my brother-in-law asked exactly that, “what is a monk?” I had to stop and think. I could get out, “a group of people who live apart.” Monk comes from “monos” a Greek word which means “alone.” Wikipedia also defines a monk as a person who practices “religious asceticism.” Either of those definitionns could apply to a number of people and not be limited to a group of men or women living in a monastic community. Continue reading “What is a monk?”