From Paul Elie


From Paul Elie

In reading The Life You Save May Be Your Own, you meet many different people and primarily four different writers. The strands concerning Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day are particularly intriguing. I look at Day as the end-road of pacifism and can't seem to separate that thought from all of the socialist/communist/anti-capitalist thought. I don't know what to make of her. Her cause has been advanced and so there must be something profoundly good and moving. Very likey, this is not the book to find that out.

During last night's reading I came upon this passage in the Merton strand:

from The Life You Save May Be Your Own p. 404-405 Paul Elie

Written for the bishops, the "Message to Contemplatives" might be a message to Merton's critics, the would-be revolutionaries and street-fighting men of the Cahtolic left. For it makes clear why he sees the contemplative life as crucial to any program for peace and justice. In Merton's view, the "experience of God," obedience to the Gospel or the affirmation of human solidarity, must be the basis of the believer's actions in the world. The contemplative life, in his account, is at once the opposite of worldly life and a concentration of it; it is religious experience exaggerated, grotesquely at times, so as to bring a truth to light--to describe the desert in the heart of every would-be believer, and to see in this desert the springs of religious experience. And it is in such experience that those who call themselves believers strive to "unite ourselves to the suffering of the world, carrying on before God a silent dialgoue even with those of our brothers who keep themselves apart from us."

There is so much here to think about and unpack. There are so many contradictory strands to bring into play. Merton himself presents certain nearly insurmountable difficulties. What does one make of the example of his life? Was he sucessful at what he aimed to do? Or did he fail, and if he failed, what are we to learned from the example. (And by fail, I mean merely in human terms, because I have no doubt that the tremendous Mercy of God sees him in heaven even now. But some suggest the possibility of Canonization, and I just don't see it in the strains of this story--that's not to say that I am not missing a great deal.)

Merton concerns me deeply because I identify a great deal with some of his writing and some of his thought. But I do not wish to so identify myself that I suffer those same trials. Merton asks cogent questions--questions that go right to the heart of a Carmelite Vocation in the world. How do you make a space of silence in which to really hear God? The closer he became to silence, the more he seemed to wander from God. How do I avoid the same path?

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 4, 2003 8:21 AM.

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