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Exploration of Interior Space: The Parable of the Desert

“The longest journey of any person is the journey inward"
Those who lose themselves in the deep desert discover the secret which Kafka's applicant in his parable “Before the Law” never appreciates. The law's secret is its nothingness. That is its ground, and only those who dare to go outside and beyond the law—to become outlaws in the Badlands—can hope to learn of its “mystical” foundations.
source: The sacred desert: religion, literature, art, and culture...David Jasper
Before the Law by Franz Kafka

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in sometime later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” The gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try going inside in spite of my prohibition. But take note. I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I cannot endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this first one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud; later, as he grows old, he only mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has also come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things considerably to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know now?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”
source: Franz Kafka, Before the Law...translated by Ian Johnston
A Monastic (Contemplative) Contribution to Global Healing
Monasticism, as an organized spiritual journey, is further countercultural because it offers another way to society. Its very existence calls into question the assumptions of society which are usually based on a limited understanding that does not challenge the individual to grow either morally or spiritually or intellectually, but is satisfied with conformity. The masses have become enslaved to conformity through the hypnotic trance of entertainment and pleasure, the chief agent of which is the television and video medium. This medium has helped create a culture that is spiritually illiterate, morally shallow, psychologically dysfunctional, addictive and violent; a society and culture that is inwardly disordered. The monastic or contemplative call challenges this social milieu by offering a vision of peace, holiness, integration and the unmistakable reality of the inner life; it offers clarity and focus on what is essential.

Contemplation changes our perspective. It allows us to see through the illusions and negative patterns of society and ourselves. It holds a mirror to us, revealing our hidden motives. It calls us to change, to metanoia, to conversion, to strive for happiness in a different way; it awakens us and invites us to grow up. As it does this and critiques our society and its myopic values, it performs a critical and necessary prophetic function in the world, and has always done so. It draws our attention to the primacy of the inner journey that we are all meant to make. But it also calls us to change, to transformation of our perspective, our heart and actions, what the inner journey itself demands. As our perspective changes or expands, we are empowered to respond with compassion, kindness and love.
The contemplative experience of transformation radically alters our relationship to the natural world, sensitizing us to the goodness, value and role of the created order, its need to be respected and protected by the human family. In the Rule of St. Benedict, an attitude of reverence prevails for the tools, property etc. of the monastery. They are to be treated “ . . . as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.”(21) This attitude was extended to the natural world, and a great reverence for the land was evident in the operation of monastic farms. A non-exploitive relationship existed over the centuries; a bond of harmony was characteristic of this relationship between monks and the land. Wonder prevailed rather than manipulation. Monks, contemplatives, were and are so awake interiorly that all of nature is a theophany, a place of God’s manifestation. They could see God giving himself in the created world, human life and in the heart. We need this kind of wisdom to heal our relationship with the Earth and with one another. We must regain a sense of reverence for life in all its forms. That is the challenge and the goal for humankind as the third millennium approaches.
But in the end, the healing of the Earth requires a new vision of reality, society and the human relationship to the environment. The contemplative dimension, present in all the religious traditions, is a vital resource in calling forth a civilization governed by love, compassion and kindness. As the task before us unfolds, it becomes clear that the religion of the human family equals the religions working together in harmony and mutual respect to implement this monumental transformation in culture, life and international relations.
source: Monastic Dialog...Br. Wayne Teasdale
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