As I’ve reckoned with the uncertainty and anxiety brought about by the 2016 election here in America, I’ve sought out wisdom and guidance from someone who is both grounded in contemplation and action-oriented critique. It just so happened that I was reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation and The Echoing Silence during the election.
While The New Seeds of Contemplation offered the insight I craved for contemplation, The Echoing Silence, which offers a collection of Thomas Merton’s writings and letters related to writing, provided unexpected wisdom for today’s partisan politics. As I tracked down some of Merton’s additional writings on current events (he primarily wrote about the 1950’s and 1960’s) in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he provided extremely relevant insight for today’s political climate.
In Merton I found someone who was unapologetically committed to the central orthodoxy of the Christian faith, while deeply suspicious of political events. He did not attack individuals with vindictiveness, but he did critique ideologies and the actions of individuals that were truly harmful.
I have craved Merton’s mix of contemplative spiritual formation and piercing political insight. To that end, I’m collecting quotes from his books to share on Mondays, starting with Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. While this isn’t the book I’d recommend starting with if you’re interested in Merton (try Thoughts in Solitude or New Seeds), this is the book that speaks most directly to events in my country and what contemplative action could look like:
“So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth.*
Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth. As long as we do not have this love, as long as this love is not active and effective in our lives (for words and good wishes will never suffice) we have no real access to the truth. At least not to moral truth.”
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (p. 63).
*Paragraph break added for online readability.