I don’t recall off the top of my head if it’s The Diary of a Russian Priest or one of Alexander Schmemann’s works that contains this observation, but noticing a photo of Thomas Merton gracing the cover of his little book on contemplative prayer, it came to mind. That is, that if today one really wanted to adopt the life of solitude and prayer so extolled by the Sayings of the Fathers, one would not enter a monastery but take up a boring, menial job such as a bank teller that would allow one to pray continuously while doing the mechanical tasks of that job.

How attractive would such a life be? Not very, I imagine. It doesn’t come with the accoutrements of an exotic community or lifestyle, or a culture different from the world around it. It doesn’t give us an option to flee to, from our ordinary lives. It embraces the tedium of modern life in its quest for solitude in which prayer can grow. It is the spiritual equivalent of the high-wire artist working without a net. In such a bare life, one stands exposed to everything that can stunt or kill love and prayer. Surprised that I mentioned love here? The stereotype of the contemplative is one of a person cut off from the world, pursuing their own spiritual adventures. But the goal of contemplation is love, as Merton himself reminds us. Love itself is the door to the vision of God.

David Foster Wallace‘s last novel, The Pale King, comes to mind here as it’s been called a book about boredom and transcendence.