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Word Wisdom: Ascetic

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

Hillcrest Golf Club has approved a plan to renovate the course for a better future. The upgrades, new greens, and new fairways will occur over the next number of years in various phases. The financial process to pay for these costs is a debate amongst the members. Some would be in favour of debt financing to improve the course in a quicker manner; others promote an ascetic approach when it comes to paying for the improvements and advocate doing the work only as the money is raised.

Ascetic implies forgoing pleasure now to achieve a goal in the future. Ascetic comes the Greek word asketikos, meaning laborious, which is involving, requiring, or characterized by hard and sustained effort. The ancient root Greek term was áskēsis (from the verb askeo), which means training or exercise.

St. Paul is quoted as saying, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16) The phrase ‘take pains’ is a translation of the Greek verb askeo, meaning to exercise or exert myself. The original usage did not refer to self-denial, but to the physical training required for athletic events.

When it came into the English language in the early 1600s ascetic denoted the labour involved in abstention from pleasure, comfort, and self-indulgence as a spiritual discipline. As time went on the meaning moved more into the abstention aspect rather than the work involved. So, an ascetic lifestyle was characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasure for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Those who entered religious orders practiced asceticism.

An ascetic person, often a monk or nun, was characterized by the renunciation of material possessions and physical pleasures. They would often spend time fasting with reflection upon spiritual matters. Ascetics may withdraw from the world for their practices or continue to be part of their society, but typically adopt a frugal lifestyle.

These days, ascetic is used to describe anyone or anything demonstrating marked restraint, plainness, or simplicity, even when no appeals to the divine or spiritual are attached. Some individuals have also attempted an ascetic lifestyle to free themselves from addictions to things such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, entertainment, sex, or food.

Unfortunately, an ascetic approach has a bad reputation. People think of all those sickly monks, refusing themselves all worldly pleasures, to reach enlightenment or perhaps deliverance from sin. But to live an ascetic lifestyle can mean to train yourself to become stronger, to need less, and to become less dependent on fate and external things. One attempts to refuse things which distract you and take away your power. To advocate an ascetic lifestyle does not mean to not buy anything, but not thinking that more things and instant gratification will make you happier or achieve the desired results. A reasonable amount of asceticism can help to gain wise consumption and a measured lifestyle. A minimalist lifestyle may not benefit an economy based on consumer relations, yet it makes a lot of sense from both a personal and an environmental point of view.

Those who advocate an ascetic approach to life decisions can be viewed as stern. Stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character. Or they can seem austere, which would consist of an absence of warmth, colour, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial.

In our personal and social lives, a more ascetic approach can have great benefits in a consumer culture. It does delay gratification though. We are not very good people at postponing things now for a payoff in the future. Just consider what our federal government is doing with a fiscal policy that seems to shelve worry about debt issues into the future.

It remains to be seen if those planning the golf course changes will have a more ascetic approach to financing or desire more enjoyable golfing sooner. Not an easy choice.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.


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