It’s been nearly eight months since I last posted anything here. My blog has never really been about putting content out there to get more readers. It’s been more of a public journal of mine, reflecting on some of the things I have been learning and thinking about, especially with regards to spirituality and God. But ethics, or my responsibility to the other as one author defines it, invariably bubbles to the surface when thinking about more ethereal issues. More on that in a bit. Continue reading
This has nothing to do with my research for my paper that I’m currently writing, but I just couldn’t get over how blatantly sharp and apropos Merton’s remarks are.
What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to ‘pray for peace’ and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls ‘mocking God’–and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do. The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missiles since nothing else offers many real security.
But consider the utterly fabulous amount of money, planning, energy, anxiety and care which go into the production of weapons which almost immediately become obsolete and have to be scrapped. contrast all this with the pitiful little gesture ‘pray for peace’ piously canceling our four-cent stamps….It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who took the sword would perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians and soldiers, men, women and children without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!
It may make sense for a sick man to pray for health and then take medicine, but I fail to see any sense at all in his praying for health and then drinking poison.
While he was writing during the Cold War, are his words any less relevant to our current situation today?
Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 119-121
I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and there is a superb section on the ‘existential vacuum’ and it resonates quite deeply with my experience.
Frankl is the father of logotheraphy, more literally translated meaning therapy. Unlike other forms of psychoanalysis, Frankl’s logotheraphy sees the locus of human problems as the lack of meaning in life, especially in suffering and death. Logotheraphy seeks to address the basic human need for meaning; humans posses a will to meaning, the desire to make sense of the world and their experiences within it. The therapist who practises logotheraphy encourages the individual to face their unique and irreplaceable position in life.
Frankl speaks of the existential vacuum that he sees present in many of the patients he has worked with. The existential vacuum is simply defined as “the feeling of the total and ultimate meaningless of their lives.” (110) People who live with this existential crisis “lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the ‘existential vacuum.'” (110-111)
Some good stuff from Merton and others.
The Jewishness of the Bible
One has either got to be a Jew or stop reading the Bible. The Bible cannot make sense to anyone who is not ‘spiritually a Semite.’ The spiritual sense of the Old Testament is not and cannot be a simple emptying out of its Israelite content. Quite the contrary! The New Testament is the fulfillment of that spiritual content, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, the promise that Abraham believed in. It is never therefore a denial of Judaism, but its affirmation. Those who consider it a denial have not understood it.
Merton, CJB, 14.
Believe in order to be.
We believe, not because we want to know, but because we want to be.
Merton, CJB, 15.
Reunion begins in oneself.
If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. But if we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ.
Merton, CJB, 21
The Natural is Sacred or Profane. We choose which it will be.
Whatever is done naturally may be either sacred or profane, according to our own degree of awareness; but whatever is done unnaturally is essentially and irrevocably profane.
A.K. Coomaraswamy, in CJB, 25.
If I have not love, but all the knowledge in the world, then I am a clanging gong.
Gandhi once asked: “How can he who thinks he possesses absolute truth be fraternal?”
Commenting on Gandhi, Merton writes:
Only he who loves can be sure that he is still in contact with the truth, which is in fact too absolute to be grasped by his mind. Hence, he who holds to the gospel truth is afraid that he may lose the truth by a failure of love, not by a failure of knowledge…Knowledge expands a man like a balloon, and gives him a precarious wholeness in which he thinks that he holds in himself all the dimensions of a truth the totality of which is denied to others. It then becomes his duty, he thinks, by virtue of his superior knowledge, to punish those who do not share this truth. How can he ‘love’ others, he thinks, except by imposing on them the truth which they would otherwise insult and neglect?
Merton, CJB, 44.
Christians are a minority. Now get over it.
Christians stand to gain more in the long run by accepting their minority position and looking for quality rather than quantity.
Christopher Dawson, in CJB, 55.
Frivolous News is nothing New.
Every time [President] Kennedy sneezes or blows his nose an article is read about it in the refectory.
Merton, CJB, 58.
Oil: The Sacrament of American Folk Religion. The car: the chalice that contains it.
We waste our natural resources, as well as those of undeveloped countries’ iron, oil, etc. in order to fill our cities and roads with a congestion of traffic that is in fact largely useless, and is a symptom of the meaningless and futile agitation of our own minds. The attachment of the modern American to his automobile and the symbolic role played by his car, with its aggressive and lubric design, its useless power, its otiose gadgetry, its consumption of fuel, which is advertised as having almost supernatural power…this is where the study of American mythology should begin.
Merton, CJB, 76.
Freedom of choice is not, itself the perfection of liberty. But it helps us take our first step toward freedom or slavery, spontaneity or compulsion. The free man is the one whose choices have given him the power to stand on his own feet and determine his own life according to the higher light and spirit that are in him. The slave, in the spiritual order, is the man whose choices have destroyed all spontaneity in him and have delivered him over, bound hand and foot, to his own compulsions, idiosyncrasies and illusions, so that he never does what he really wants to do, but only what he has to do. His spirit is not in command, and therefore he cannot run his own life. He is commanded by his own weak flesh and its passions––fear, greed, lust, insecurity, untruthfulness, envy, cruelty, servility, and all the rest.
As an explanatory note, Merton is not saying the body is evil when he speaks about “flesh.” The physical is not bad.
Merton, The New Man, 179