I sympathize with the sleeping figure in Valentin de Boulogne’s Dream of Saint Joseph, a portrait of a weary man unaware of the angel tugging at his sleeve. The description that accompanies this painting often comes to mind these days: “Incapable of rising to the truths of the spirit, exhausted by the effort, mankind falls back into his torpor.” How many times have I glimpsed a better, more spiritualized way to live—and retreated? Sometimes I fantasize about chucking my gadgets into the river, retreating into the pages of the classics, and living a solitary life in the gloom like Magdalene or Francis with their skulls and candles that remind them time is short. Yet even as I write this, I find myself still scrolling, refreshing, and clicking yes, I am still watching.

But it’s reassuring to know that saints wrestled with distraction, too.

In the year 375, Saint Jerome was determined to escape the world’s clamor and find salvation in the desert. In a letter to a student, he described the difficulty of removing himself from the ones he loved and “harder still, from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed.” Although he managed to leave these comforts behind, he could not bear to abandon his books. So he carried his copies of Cicero, Virgil, and Ovid through the Syrian wilderness, books that were considered profane by his religion. “And so, miserable man that I was,” he wrote, “I would fast only that I might afterward read Cicero.” It lingers in the mind, the image of a man dragging his library through the desert, only to punish himself for reading.

Kali Malone – Sacer Profanare

The Sacrificial Code | Ideal Recordings, 2019 | Bandcamp