Monday Merton: Love, Love Only

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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.

 

We Will Rebuild with Truth, Equality, Justice, and Love

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As concerned as I am about America’s next president and the many threats he may pose, here’s where I’m at today:

– We have civil rights leaders and activists among us who are experienced and able to help us stand for justice.

– We have journalists and academics who are committed to finding the truth, reporting the truth, and documenting the truth.

– We have civil servants and government workers who will resist the injustices and destructive policies of this man.

– We have a history of Christian writers opposing injustice, such as Dorothy Day (see “The Long Loneliness”) and Thomas Merton (see “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”).

– We have a majority in our opposition since the majority of voters did not choose this man.

– I believe that injustice and suffering will follow this man’s inauguration, and things could become far worse than we could imagine in the next four years, but perhaps this disastrous presidency will be the low point that the American people finally need to elect politicians who can enact the reforms we need.

– As the American people discover the depths of injustice that have been unleashed on our land, we must immediately translate our anger into action throughout state elections and Congressional elections, putting politicians (from either party) into office with the moral backbone to stand up to this man.

– This election has exposed the degree to which I have personally depended on elected officials for security in my future. That doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of this man and his hateful associates and policies, but Christians have lived and continue to live in the shadow of oppressive and corrupt regimes.

– I am more committed than ever to my creative work and the creative work of others that pulls back the blinders that political propaganda, pop culture, and entertainment throw on reality.

– I am more committed than ever to the practice of contemplation, seeking quiet moments throughout my day in order to be present for the love of God in order to ground my faith and to cultivate compassion for those deceived by this man.

– I am more committed than ever to love and truth because these are steady and strong, outlasting the temporary gains of bombast, deception, and propaganda.

The American people have resisted injustice and deceit before. With God’s help, we will do it again.

As dark as this hour seems with so much freedom and stability slipping away, let’s resolve to hold onto our family, friends, and neighbors who grasp the gravity of this moment. Let’s hold onto God’s love. Let’s move forward together, committing to pick each other up when we fall into despair. I resolve to hold onto you, to reach out for you, and to depend on you as well when I need support.

After we pass through the fire of this man’s presidency, we will need to rebuild what he has taken away from us. I hope and pray that we will use the sturdy materials of justice, equality, and truth so that no man, woman, or child will ever have to experience the depths of dread and despair that so many of us feel today.

For today, take care of yourself. Practice silence before God. Breathe deeply. Take a walk. Ask for God’s strength to carry us in the days that coming.

In God’s hope,

Ed Cyzewski