Merton on Men, Animals, and God’s Will

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I struggle with how to respond to words and actions that strike at the heart.

“They’re animals.”

“They’re criminals. They don’t deserve consideration and compassion.”

“We have lost our soul.” These last words from Ruben Garcia at the recent Voice of the Voiceless fundraising dinner for Annunciation House, with the theme “If the World Knew,” especially struck my heart. “Our country has lost its soul,” he told us.

Is it true?

I don’t know how to respond.

I wonder how do I convey, through my words, the haunting wails of a child separated from his mother? Or the pain expressed by a woman whose husband – her sole supporter – is forcibly taken from her without her being able to say goodbye? What words exemplify the distress I have been feeling that these “deeds” are done in our name?

What could I possibly write? And how is God asking me to respond?

Part of my assignment with the Living School of Contemplation and Action is to read mystics like Thomas Merton. This morning, I spontaneously opened his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, and discovered the words I was searching for.

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So I will let him write this post for me.

Just as a forewarning, having written this in 1961, Merton uses a lot of male pronouns and nouns. I have occasionally added “woman” to this excerpt, and I have italicized and boldened some text that especially speaks to me, but his message shines through nonetheless.

“If you want to know what is meant by ‘God’s will’ in man’s life, this is one way to get a good idea of it. ‘God’s will’ is certainly found in anything that is required of us in order that we may be united with one another in love. You can call this, if you like, the basic tenet of the Natural Law, which is that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, that we should not do to one another what we would not want another to do to us. In other words, the natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves. The plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other [men and women] as if they were [men/women]. Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.

“Everything that is demanded of me, in order that I may treat every other [man/woman] effectively as a human being, ‘is willed for me by God under the natural law.’ Whether or not I find the formula satisfactory, it is obvious that I cannot live a truly human life if I consistently disobey this fundamental principle.

“But I cannot treat other men as men unless I have compassion for them. I must have at least enough compassion to realize that when they suffer they feel somewhat as I do when I suffer. And if for some reason I do not spontaneously feel this kind of sympathy for others, then it is God’s will that I do what I can to learn how. I must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires. I must learn to do this not only in the cases of those who are of the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation as myself, but when men who suffer belong to other groups, even to groups that are regarded as hostile. If I do this, I obey God. If I refuse to do it, I disobey Him. It is not therefore a matter left open to subjective caprice.

“…Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs, it is Christ living in us and uniting [men/women] to one another in His own Life and unity. ‘I in them, and Thou, Father in Me, that they may be made perfect in One…And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.’” (New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 76-77)

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A Promise in Post-Election Pandemonium

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Hope. Love. Commitment.

I’ve settled on these three qualities. They’re what I will be carrying with me as we go forward into the next four years. Along with a promise, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Throughout the day following the election, I felt unable to completely focus. My heart laden, my mind racing with legitimate concerns.

For the vulnerable, for the marginalized. For the migrants and refugees whom I serve and for those who will be denied a much-needed haven here. For Muslims, especially Muslim Americans. For African-Americans. For the LGBT community. For women. For Mother Earth. For those who already face lives more difficult and painful than most of us will ever experience – in this country and far beyond.

Did I leave anyone out?

I prayed to be able to say yes. To all that I was feeling. To all that I was fearing.

The only prayers I could get out were, “Help.” And “Not my will but thine be done.”

Then I found myself remembering someone else who’d surrendered with those words.

I imagined the fear and helplessness Jesus must have felt.

And I realized I was looking at this from a smaller lens. Like a child fearing the next wave while missing the grandeur and beauty of an entire ocean that could lift her up.

And I began to hope.

Not the kind of hope that wants to believe everything will turn out the way I think it should.

Spiritual hope.

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The kind of hope I remembered insight meditation teacher Tara Brach describing in one of her wonderful talks. The kind revealed to 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich who asked for an understanding of the suffering in this world.

 

There’s no mistaking. Donald Trump has brought to light the dark shadow of this country. A shadow that has been lurking under the surface all along. He did not cause it. He certainly triggered it and capitalized on it. And he seems to live unaware of its existence within himself.

But unless we bring what is hidden in darkness into the light, it cannot be healed and transformed.

I find hope in that possibility.

I also pray for its realization.

Last night I gathered with my newfound Mexican indigenous “sisters” for a “supermoon” full moon prayer ritual. We came together with a prayer intention of sending love and light to our president-elect Donald Trump, to his team, for our country, and our world. It truly was a light-filled ceremony of releasing and surrendering. Of opening to Spirit’s power and love.

Pray.

That’s something we can all do going forward.

And I feel I must do more. Given the dangerous, divisive attitudes in our country and the groundswell of hate that has erupted.

So, I have made a post-election promise:

I will keep my heart and mind open.

I will be devoted and committed to self-introspection, to paying attention to my own shadow.

I will listen to those with different views and engage in nonviolent dialogue and behavior.

Yet, I will not stand idly by while someone of a different race, sexual orientation, or religion is insulted or threatened.

I will not be indifferent.

I will not be silent in the face of injustice, bigotry, or worse.

I will continue to serve those in need, to do the work I do for migrants and refugees, no matter the consequences.

I will be quiet enough to listen to God within me, and act from that wiser, contemplative place.

Most importantly, I will live by the law of love. The spiritual law of brotherhood.

Love God. Love neighbor. That will always come first. Before any law of the land.

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As Richard Rohr said in his post-election message: “We who know about universal belonging and identity in God have a different form of power: Love (even of enemies) is our habitat, not the kingdoms of this world.

“Only a contemplative mind can hold our fear, confusion, vulnerability, and anger and guide us toward love. Let’s use this milestone moment to begin again with confidence and true inner freedom and to move out into the world with compassion.” (Rohr’s full article is available on the Center for Action and Contemplation website at cac.org)

I go forward with compassion, empowered in my true identity.

With hope in the One who loves us beyond our current understanding.

Committed to speak out and to stand by all my brothers and sisters.

Because we are One. And all lives matter.

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