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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 4 page 12

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But that’s the future. What about the past?

We can learn from the fifth- and sixth-century ascetics who were immune to economic cycles because they lived in caves, trees, or holes in the ground, where they paid no rent. They went naked like the beasts of the field, or semi-naked at least. Their major entertainments were prayer and having visions.

More of us should follow their example.

Everybody has heard of Simeon Stylites (which means “Simeon the pillar-man”) in ancient Syria, who dwelt on a wooden platform atop a sixty-foot pillar where he prayed, preached, and prophesied, rain or shine, for 36 years straight. Pilgrims came from far and wide to seek his blessing.

The pillar-sitting craze spread throughout Syria, which was a fanatical sort of place in those times. After Simeon came Daniel the Stylite, and Maro the Stylite, and Abraham of Kalesh, and others too numinous to mention. There was even someone calling himself Simeon the Stylite the Younger, which sounds like a case of name appropriation — unless some moonstruck maid had climbed the rope to Simeon the Elder’s perch one night. That was unlikely, however, since he stank bad.

The powerful thing about a stylite was that his manner of living made a statement that he was closer to God than you. Visually he was closer to the sky, which was God’s real or symbolic abode. And since the stylite disdained the comforts of civilization, that made him more animalistic — which was another plus, since people even back then felt that the more civilized we become, the further removed we are from personal authenticity, true nature, and the heavenly connection.

The obvious question is, why doesn’t society produce that type of person anymore? We still produce crazy people, of course, but why don’t we have crazy ascetics?

Firstly, we don’t possess that depth of theological conviction anymore. In those days, monotheism was still a fresh and intoxicating concept. Nowadays, it’s struggling against the multiverses. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we have consumerism — to fill the void of living without transcendental backing.

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