Posted by: geolocke | 2013/07/01

True Confessions.

     I have a confession to make.  No, this doesn’t involve hushed whispers in dark boxes near the back of the Church.  It involves, in part, how to reconcile trying to live a Christian lifestyle in a society that is almost entirely secular in nature … but I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

     I do not read very much any more. I have a few books that I am reading but I have been reading them for several years now. I’ll pick them up and read a chapter or two and then put them back down again for 6 months or more. This is fine because the books I am reading are meant to be digested that way. The books are (in no particular order): The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas À Kempis, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, and The Sign of Jonas, the Journal of Thomas Merton.  This is all in addition to my morning prayers and daily readings of the Mass and reflections upon them.

     This feast of books might explain why I am taking my time to digest these readings.  All of these authors tend to pack a lot of material for reflection into each paragraph.  I have to take a bite, slowly savor the words, reflect upon them, and then prepare for the next bite. When I’ve had enough of one, I switch to another, but regardless of what I happen to be reading, it always seems to apply to what is going on in my life at the time.

     Now, back to my confession.

     I have been very worried about the climate in our Country and in our State for quite some time now. I’m not talking about the weather, but about the polarization that is continuing to occur in our society. Historically our nation has been governed through compromise. That’s not to say there haven’t been disagreements and some outright knock-down drag-out fights before, but overall, we have been a nation that sought compromise in the name of addressing the issues of the day. But here lately, there is no compromise. There is only opposing sides. And I feel caught in between because I do not subscribe entirely to the party line of either side. I am reminded of the character Treebeard from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” when he was asked which side [of the war] he was on, he answered: “Which side am I on? I am not entirely on anyone’s side because no one is entirely on my side.”

     I find in my case that I am too liberal for the conservatives and I am too conservative for the liberals. There is no place for my views which is to help those in need, welcome the immigrant, preserve the institutions that made this country great, and preserve our infrastructure and society so *all* our children and grandchildren will have something worth inheriting.  I wish for all of this regardless of, and in spite of, the sins of all of us and our ancestors before us leading us to the mess I see us in today.

     The polarizing forces that we now face tell us we have to choose some, but not all of these views, depending on which side you choose to stand with. This polarization has even reached the lowest (closest) levels of our government. You can not escape the constant inane chatter that is bantered about by the talking heads in almost all parts of our daily lives.  And escape is what I have dearly desired of late.

     That is my confession.  I have wished I could withdraw from this madness around me and seek to live my life in service of those in need and leave the scheming political pundits to their own downfall and destruction. But there is nowhere for me to go because I love my City, County, State and Country, even though I feel that it no longer loves me, or at least what I care about and what I think really matters. 

     This is, of course, utter silliness. Every generation had some polarizing issues and the good women and men who would fight for the common ground are left out of the field of play, stuck on the sidelines as the great armies of Left and Right battle it out upon the field of politics.  Still, I fear the introduction of the never-ending media blitz of these last few years, the never ending campaign of Right versus Left has left us people of the middle stranded without so much a voice for compromise as a whimper of regret.  Thus my desire to escape it all.  That is where my reading list has come to rescue me.

     I am nearing my three year journey through Thomas Merton’s Journal “The Sign of Jonas”. In his Journal the year is now 1951 and Merton is an ordained Priest and Cistercian Monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Louisville Kentucky. Merton is preparing to become a naturalized Citizen of the United States and he has some inspiring observations about this subject and about his own need to escape the world he lived in at the time he first entered the Monastery at the beginning of World War Two. I found comfort in his words, those of a kindred soul if I might be so brazen to call him, for he is (was) obviously so much better a soul than I am or perhaps will ever be. From Merton’s Journal, here are the two entries that I found comfort in.

*****

February 28 [1951]

Studying the baby-talk citizenship textbook that is given out to help us aliens prepare for our naturalization. Suddenly realized that this business of citizenship raises a moral question. Impossible to take it as a mere formality. Either it means something or it doesn’t. There is more to this than the problem of semantics. It is a question of justice and of charity. Why do half the people in America seem to think it is a moral weakness to admit that they owe America something – and perhaps everything? And that the country is worth loving?

*****

March 3 [1951]

March is Saint Benedict’s month. Clearing thorn trees from the rocky shoulder over the middle bottom where the new road is being made. I got to be good friends with his relic yesterday. How weary I am of being a writer. How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the rain, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters. They form our contemplation. They instill us with virtue. The make us as stable as the land we live in. You do not get that out of a typewriter. Tunc vere monachi sunt si de labore manuum suarum vivunt sicut et Patres nostri et Apostoli. (“Then only are they truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands as did our fathers and the Apostles” – The Rule of St. Benedict).

The sanity of Saint Benedict has something to do with the mystery of a monk becoming an American citizen. Yesterday I looked closely  for the first time in ten years at the manuscript of the Journal of My Escape from the Nazis, which I wrote ten years ago at Saint Bonaventure’s at the beginning of the war. Sister Thérèse borrowed it from Ed Rice and sent it on to me.

It was a very inhibited book, in spite of all the uninhibited explosives of an invented language which I still like. The action can never progress forward. In fact, there is no action in the book. A situation presents itself and the stream of the book – which after all has a stream – stops and forms a lake. It is sometimes quite a bright lake. But I can do nothing with it.

Sitting in the garden house I viewed the pale glare of sunlight in the roof of the distillery a mile away against the dark hills and I thought about the whole business. And although my thinking was a little incoherent – mortus orbicularis, circling the subject with a laziness appropriate to the hour, which was 1:15p.m. – nevertheless I came out of it more healthy than I went in, and descended the ladders more in one piece than I had climbed them.

One of the problems with the book was my personal relation to the world and to the last war. When I wrote it I thought I had a very supernatural solution. After nine years in a monastery I see that it was no solution at all. The false solution went like this: the whole world, of which the war is a characteristic expression, is evil. It has therefore to be first ridiculed, then spat upon, and at last formally rejected with a curse.

Actually, I have come to the monastery to find my place in the world, and if I fail to find this place in the world I will be wasting my time in the monastery.

It would be a grave sin for me to be on my knees in this monastery, flagellated, penanced, though not now as thin as I ought to be, and spend my time cursing the world without distinguishing what is good in it from what is bad.

Wars are evil but the people involved in them are good, and I can do nothing whatever for my own salvation or for the glory of God if I merely withdraw from the mess people are in and make an exhibition of myself and write a big book saying, “Look! I am different!” To do this is to die. Because any man who pretends to be either an angel or a statue must die the death. The immobility of that Journal of my Escape was a confession of my own nonentity, and this was a result of a psychological withdrawal.

On the other hand, if you let yourself be washed away with all the dirt on the surface of the stream you pile up somewhere in another kind of mobility, with the rest of the jetsam in the universe.

Coming to the monastery has been for me exactly the right kind of withdrawal. It has given me perspective. It has taught me how to live. And now I owe everyone else in the world a share in that life. My first duty is to start, for the first time, to live as a member of a human race which is no more (and no less) ridiculous than I am myself. And my first human act is the recognition of how much I owe everybody else.

Thus God has brought me to Kentucky where the people are, for the most part, singularly without inhibitions. This is the precise place He has chosen for my sanctification. Here I must revise all my own absurd plans, and take myself as I am, Gethsemani as it is, and America as it is – atomic bomb and all. It is utterly peculiar, but none the less true, that after all, one’s nationality should come to have a meaning in in the light of eternity. I have lived for thirty-six years without one. Nine years ago I was proud of the fact. I thought to be a citizen of heaven all you had to do was throw away your earthly passport. But now I have discovered a mystery: that Miss Sue and all the other ladies in the office of the Deputy Clerk of the Louisville District Court are perhaps in some accidental way empowered to see that I am definitely admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven forever.

I am beginning to believe that perhaps the only, or at least the quickest way, I shall become a saint is by virtue of the desires of many good people in America that I should become one. […] If I do become one [a saint] it will be because of the prayers of other people who, though they are better than I am, still want me to pray for them. Perhaps I am called upon to objectify the truth that America, for all its evil, is innocent and somehow ignorantly holy.

*****

     Reading these words, I came to realize several things. First, Withdrawal from the mess I see around me will not solve anything. Second, the politics involved may be evil, but the individual players are good (although perhaps misguided). Third, I should not harbor grudges within my heart for the actions of the players involved because they themselves are just being played by even larger forces. Fourth, I should seek to find some way to make my weak little voice heard. To speak about Justice, Charity, Reason and Compromise and to be ready to be shouted down by players from both the left and the right. To take my part in finding a path back to sanity that is so sorely needed in our City, our County, our State, our Country and in our World.   -geo

 

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