Before pasting the words of Thomas Merton for all to see, let me share this as well; I've read bits and pieces of Merton, and know him to be one of those authors you ought to be familiar with, because he's well-respected in spiritual circles. I knew he was some sort of priest or a monk.
Now, I don't know about you, but when I read profound inspirational writings by someone identified as a monk, I make some easy assumptions. Perfect, rarely sinful, austere, holy, incredible character, humble, pious, etc...
Prompted by the power of Merton's words, I did a little research on the man.
Lord, have mercy; as He does. Merton was an intellectual, jazz-loving, drinking, smoking, woman-loving man. He grew into this priest business in the process of growing up. He had some sort of deeply spiritual experience while viewing statues of the Buddha in Asia. He had a crazy family life.
All my preconceived notions of holiness went out the window with this detailed awareness. Merton was a man, just like any other man. As he worked out his salvation with fear and trembling and more than one mistake along the way, he ended up in a place where his skills enabled him to write deeply moving, profound truths about God, about self, about life. He's left us this incredible legacy of what it means to be human.
My brother told me yesterday that he believes Christianity is about being fully human; he said, "The more we follow Christ, the more authentically human we are." I'm thinking Merton had that figured out.
Here's what I read this morning, from Merton's book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
The Demands of Living Seriously
By Thomas Merton
A great deal of virtue and piety is simply the easy price we pay in order to justify a life that is essentially trifling. Nothing is so cheap as the evasion purchased by just enough good conduct to make one pass as a ’serious person.’
And when you come to look more deeply into our present condition you find that many forms of ’seriousness’ and ‘achievement’ come to this in the end. In our society, a society of business rooted in puritanism, based on a pseudo-ethic of industriousness and thrift, to be rewarded by comfort, pleasure, and a good bank account, the myth of work is thought to justify an existence that is essentially meaningless and futile.
There is, then, a great deal of busy-ness as people invent things to do when in fact there is very little to be done. Yet we are overwhelmed with jobs, duties, tasks, assignments, “missions” of every kind. At every moment we are sent north, south, east and west by the angels of business and art, poetry and politics, science and war, to the four corners of the universe to decide something, to sign something, to buy and sell. We fly in all directions to sell ourselves, thus justifying the absolute nothingness of our lives.
Some make it their business to cover their own emptiness by pointing out the fraudulency of others, but always the emphasis is on the fact that others have nevertheless done something, even though it was a matter of perpetrating a fraud. They have perpetrated something. And so the myth prospers. No matter how empty our lives become, we are always at least convinced that something is happening because, indeed, as we so often complain, too much is happening. There is so much to be done that we do not have time to live.
But it is precisely this idea that a serious life demands ‘time to live’ that is the root of our trifling. In reality, what we want is time in which to trifle and vegetate without feeling guilty about it. But because we do not dare try it, we precipitate ourselves into another kind of trifling: that which is not idle, but dissimulated as action.
Thanks to inward/outward