A Merton Miscellany – Raids on the Unspeakable

Eschatological Christianity

Eschatology is not an invitation to escape into a private heaven: it is a call to transfigure the evil and stricken world. It is a witness to the end of this world of ours with its enslaving objectifications.

Nicholas Berdyaev quoted in Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable.

The practical conclusion derived from this faith [eschatological Christianity] turns into an accusation of the age in which I live and into a command to be human in this most inhuman of ages, to guard the image of man for it is the image of God.

Nicholas Berdyaev quoted in Merton, RU.

In the modern world, only the marketable has meaning.

Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By ‘they’ I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sel you even your rain.

Merton, RU

Let business make the rain. This will give it meaning.

Merton, RU

The Coleman Philosophy of Life

What does my Coleman lantern tell me? (Coleman’s philosophy is printed on the cardboard box which I have (guiltily) not shellacked as I was supposed to, and which I have tossed in the woodshed behind the hickory chunks.) Coleman says that the light is good, and has a reason: it i “Stretches days to give more hours of fun.”

Can’t I just be in the woods without any special reason? Just being in the woods, at night, in the cabin, is something too excellent to be justified or explained! It just is. There are always a few people who are in the woods at night, in the rain (because if there were not the world would have ended), and I am one of them. We are not having fun, we are not ‘having anything,’ we are not ‘stretching our days,’ and if we had fun it would not be measured by hours. Though as a matter of fact, that is what fun seems to be: a state of diffuse excitation that can be measured by the clock and ‘stretched’ by an appliance.

Merton, RU

There is no law that governs solitude.

To be a contemplative is therefore to be an outlaw.

Merton, RU

Solitude is the site of discovering one’s inner self.

One who is not ‘alone,’ says Philoxenos, has not discovered his identity…because he is willingly enclosed and limited by the laws and illusions of collective existence he has no more identity than an unborn child in the womb. He is not yet conscious. He is alien to his own truth. He has senses, but he cannot use them. He has life, but no identity. To have an identity, he has to be awake, and aware. But to be awake, he has to accept vulnerability and death. Not for their own sake; not out of stoicism or despair…The discovery of this inner self is an act and affirmation of solitude.

Merton, RU

Now if we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth.

Merton, RU

The collective womb fabricates our lives for us.

On the illusions fabricated by collective society…

…in order to experience yourself as real, you have to suppress the awareness of your contingency, your unreality, your state of radical need. This you do by creating an awareness of yourself as one who has no needs that he cannot immediately fulfill…You have needs; but if you behave and conform you can participate in the collective power. You can then satisfy all your needs. Meanwhile, in order to increase its power over you, the collectivity increases your needs.

Merton, RU

We are prisoners of a process, a dialectic of false promises and unreal deceptions ending in futility.

Merton, RU

One must leave the womb to become more human.

He who is spiritually ‘born’ as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing womb of myth and prejudice He learns to think for himself, guided no longer by the dictates of need and by the systems and processes designed to create artificial needs and then ‘satisfy’ them.

Merton, RU

Two ways of emancipation, of ‘birth’ from the womb of collective illusion.

The active life:

…which liberate itself rom the enslavement to necessity by considering and serving the needs of others, without thought of personal interest or return.

The contemplative life:

…which must not be construed as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, a confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of ‘being nothing.’ THe man who dares to be alone can come to see that the ’emptiness’ and ‘uselessness’ which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth.

Merton, RU

The desert does not create mirages, it exposes our life as a mirage.

It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory.

Merton, RU

In the desert, one finds water.

…in the heart of anguish are found the gifts of peace and understanding: not simply in personal illumination and liberation, but by commitment and empathy, for the contemplative must assume the universal anguish and the inescapable condition of mortal man.

The solitary, far from enclosing himself in himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, the indigence of every man.

Merton, RU

Christ in the Desert

From the moment Christ went out into the desert to be tempted, the loneliness, the temptation and the hunger of every man became the loneliness, temptation, and hunger of Christ. But in return, the gift of truth with which Christ dispelled the three kinds of illusion offered him in his temptation (security, reputation and power) can become also our own truth, if we can only accept it.

Merton, RU


In all the cities of the world it is the same. The universal and modern man is the man in a rush (i.e. rhinoceros), a man who has no time, who is a prisoner of necessity, who cannot understand that a thing might perhaps be without usefulness; nor does he understand that, at bottom, it is the useful that may be a useless and back-breaking burden. If one does not understand the usefulness of the useless and the uselessness of the useful, one cannot understand art. And a country where art is not understood is a country of slaves and robots…

Ionesco, Notes et Contre Notes quoted in Merton, RU

Rhinoceritis, he adds, is the sickness that lies in wait “for those who have lost the sense and the taste for solitude.”

Ionesco quoted in Merton, RU.

No need to kill.  No need for a “reason” to do so.

Only the man who has fully attained his own spiritual identity can live without the need to kill, and without the need of a doctrine that permits him to do so with a good conscience.

Merton, RU

The group excludes that which it cannot absorb.

Paradoxically, one of the needs of collectivity is to reject certain classes, or races, or groups, in order to strengthen its own self-awareness by hating them instead of absorbing them.

Merton, RU

Your country needs you. But why?

We suffer all the needs that society demands we suffer, because if we do not have these needs we lose our ‘usefulness’ in society–the usefulness of suckers.

Merton, RU

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