My Favorite Monk
“If you’re afraid to write something that might offend someone, why write anything at all.”
– Thomas Merton
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…[W]e are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest …. This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud …. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
– Thomas Merton
“[The] real sense of our own existence, which is normally veiled and distorted by the routine distractions of an alienated life, is now revealed in a central intuition. What was lost and dispersed in the relative meaninglessness and triviality of purposeless behavior (living like a machine, pushed around by impulsions and suggestions from others) is brought together in fully integrated conscious significance.”
– Thomas Merton
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”
– Thomas Merton
And one of my greatest heroes:
Martin Luther King Jr.
“Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage they will begin to get weak. And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And to I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” …Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared.”
– Martin Luther King
A Hidden Wholeness:
Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Recognition of the interrelatedness of all persons, they claimed, lays upon all people of good will the radical obligation of compassion. Beyond barriers of race, nationality, and religion, we must identify ourselves with the poor, the oppressed, the wretched of the earth. It is our calling to become the voice of the voiceless, the face of the faceless, to an unheeding and uncaring society. For ultimately, according to King and Merton, there are no aliens, no enemies, no others, but only sisters and brothers. However, this kind of identification, if it is to be authentic instead of merely sentimental, requires suffering. Love in reality, unlike love in dreams, is a harsh and dreadful thing (as Fr. Zossima and Dorothy Day remind us). Compassion requires kenosis, self-emptying sacrifice. kenosis might take the shape of solitude and silence as it did for Merton — the lonely self-emptying experience of nothingness that opens out into frightening darkness. Or, kenosis might take the form of altruistic activism, as it did for King – the daily burden of exhausting dedication to the schedules, needs, and demands of others. In either case, the cross must be born. Compassion demands it. As both men knew well, the pattern had been set long ago by the person they tried to follow: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
“In the end, Merton’s path and King’s, the contemplative way and the activist way, met at the symbol of reconciliation, agape, and compassion — the cross. Their lives bore complementary witness to the profound meditation of an earlier disciple upon that same cross:
We know what love is by this: that he laid down his life for us so that we ought to lay down our lives for others. But whoever possesses this world’s goods and notices his brother in need and shuts his heart against him, how can the love of God remain in him? Dear children, let us put our love not into words or into talk but into deeds… (I John 3:16-18).
Albert J. Raboteau: A Hidden Wholeness: Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.
IDEAS – HERETIC BLOOD: THE SPIRITUAL GEOGRAPHY OF THOMAS MERTON