Merton On My Mind

I told myself I was going to take a break from reading. I tend to read myself into despair. There is definitely some truth to the biblical injunction that much reading is weariness to the soul. I know that sounds bad but I’m being honest here. I read very little fiction which I heard is not good as well (not reading fiction that is). I have been thinking about picking up a good novel. Any suggestions?

I did run across a refreshing voice the other day, Thomas Merton. Where has this cat been all my life? There is something about this gentlemen’s writing that stirs me up. I have been reading Luke-Acts along with some of Merton’s writings. I picked up a book edited by Robert Inchausti, author of Subersive Orthodoxy, that is a collection of quotes and passages from Merton’s various writings.

Here is something that got my day going. It came at an opportune time after a conversation I had with some of my co-workers, who happen to be Christian, about the notion of worldliness. There were a varying range of ideas about “worldliness”. From going to the strip club to drinking beer, to cussin to all the other “worldly” things Christians are infamous for prognosticating on . In reading Merton this morning I stumbled upon a notion of worldliness that, to me, really captures what the biblical narrative is getting at when it uses the word “world” or “wordly”:

I think the question of “turning to the world” is in fact a question of being patient with the unprepossessing surface of it, in order to break through to the deep goodness that is underneath. But to my way of thinking, “the world” is precisely the dehumanized surface. What is under the surface, and often stifled and destroyed, is more than “the world”: it is the spirit and likeness of God in men. Much of the ambiguity in talk about the world-especially mine-is that everyone tends to be quite selective about the elements he admits into his concept of “the world.” My particular concept focuses on the sham, the unreality, the alienation, the forced systematization of life, and not on the human reality that is alienated and suppressed. This has to be made clear. (p.27-28)

What did I get from Merton here? What stuck to my soul? It was the notion that the “world” is a sham, an unreality that is foisted upon us all. A sham we accept and are willing to sacrifice our souls and children for at the drop of a hat. A sham. A sham life of serving only my interests and not that of others, sham dreams of being the most important, sham aspirations of climbing over others to get to the top, sham relationships based upon utility. When someone now tells me that Jesus saves me from the “world” the gospel has more of a real meaning now. The world ceases to be a nebulous concept. The world ceases to be something that receives arbitrary moral judgments.

The world is a sham. It is the sham. It is the world-as-it-is-presented. A world that blurs the soul and makes it difficult to distinguish between the “flesh” and the “spirit”. That part of me that is attached to the old age and the other part of me, the spirit, that is captured by a new age inaugurated by Christ on the cross and in his resurrection.

Merton has helped me go one step further in imagining salvation as something real and not an a-historical proposition I have to eject my mind in order to desperately hold on to. He is helping me read the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles aright. Salvation has a concrete reality to it. May God’s grace keep me and save me on the journey of my soul!


11 thoughts on “Merton On My Mind

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  1. I am happy to hear that you have discovered Old Fr. Tom. Merton has been one of the most significant influences on my life and path. I pray you will continue to find gold in reading him.

  2. Fiction? The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    If you like Merton, I recommend all things Nouwen, beginning with The Way of the Heart.


  3. karl rahner, a jesuit priest coupled with merton is a feast! try rahner’s encounters with silence and merton’s new seeds of contemplation to start. i am in gavin’s merton group, would love for you to join, as i enjoy your blog.

  4. I enjoy Merton also, and point out with some glee that he lived in Kentucky. 🙂 I have also grown to love Carlo Carretto, another 20th century mystic. And (regarding our conversation on Gavin’s site), I listen very carefully to what they have to say about pacifism. I know well that I could be wrong.

  5. Chris,

    The scary thing is this. We all could be wrong…which is why I find these kinds of discussion interesting. That I am a pacifist is a confession…I have no idea what I would do if a cat broke into my house to harm my family…to be honest I would probably give him the biggest beat down of his life. Then I’d pray for him. Alot of this stuff is fun to deal with in the abstract…beliefs and confessions mean nothing without concrete display.

    Thanks for commenting on the blog here. I will definitely check out the name you mentioned.

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