More Merton: On the Humility to Withdraw from Glory

I’m just back from being up front and vocal for almost a week. I flew down to Cupertino (= AppleLand), California, to serve alongside the good men and women of Peninsula Bible Church–Cupertino, having so enjoyed working with the gang up the road at Peninsula Bible Church–Palo Alto a couple of years ago.

I preached, first, on “Is Dawkins Right? Are Christians Dumb, Delusional, and Dangerous?” (I answered, yes, some of us are, of course; and ALL OF US ARE, if you see things truly from Dawkins’s, or Nietzsche’s, point of view.) They get people together to worship at 8:30 a.m. (!) and then again at 10:30 a.m., so I got to preach twice. The building was nicely full, and it was a blast to hold forth to an appreciative audience. (I have invariably found Californians to be wonderfully demonstrative listeners.)

That evening, second, I began three successive evenings of public lectures sponsored by the church: “Buddha, Laozi, Krishna, Jesus: What’s the Difference? And What Difference Does It Make?”; “Christianity Is Bad Because It Is Intrinsically Anti-Science…and also Because It Justified Scientific and Technological Abuse of the World–Uh, What?”; and “Why Are Christians against Sexual Freedom?”

I spent the next morning, third, listening and talking with the staff of the church about the vexed issue of “Communication: Making It Work before It Works You Over,” and we had a candid, challenging conversation about how a good church can still have too much friction alternating with too much silence.

I flew over to Iowa, fourth, and then conducted an all-day workshop for the faculty of Northwestern College in Orange City, the beloved school that gave me my first full-time teaching position. I was pretty sure that some faculty members would not want to (a) hear some theologian talk about basic theology and how it might (or might not) affect and improve their teaching; (b) talk with each other about such a topic; and (c) be there at all. And I came away thinking that I was right on all three counts…

But most of the professors seemed engaged in what I was trying to offer them, and most seemed to be what I expect they are: serious, spiritual, savvy teachers who work hard to give their students the best education possible. And it was a privilege to work hard to prepare and then to perform for them such that I hope it nudges at least a few along a good path they’re already on.

So I got home last night, happy and honoured to have been given so much attention as I taught and opined. And also deeply tired, not only from the travel, and the three different hotels in six nights, and the frowning faces that greeted me when I spoke and impeded me more than they should have, and the sheer exertion of trying to hold a contemporary audience’s attention about substantial theological, ethical, or pedagogical matters for hours on end…but also from bearing the burden of being The Person Up Front, The Visiting Authority, The One Who Had Jolly Well Come Across with at Least Pretty Good Stuff to Justify My Being Here.

And Thomas Merton was waiting for me this morning with the extension of the prayer I began in the last post. (I’ll play with the lines a bit to emphasize what I found so helpful in it.)

This then is what it means to seek God perfectly:

to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires,

from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display;

to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of his will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God; to cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love;

to love all men as myself;

to rest in humility and to find peace in withdrawal from conflict and competition with other men; to turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment

and censorship

and criticism

and the whole burden of opinions that I have no obligation to carry;

to have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God,

poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of

my dependence on Him;

to gather all that I am, and have all that I can possibly suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God,

to do His will.

And then to wait in peace and emptiness and oblivion of all things.

Bonum est praestolari cum silentio salutare Dei.

(“It is good to wait in silence for the salvation of God.”)

Yes, yes, it is good so to wait. So I’ll stop typing now (still holding forth!) and be quiet for a bit.

 

3 Responses to “More Merton: On the Humility to Withdraw from Glory”

  1. Allan Ronald

    Enjoyed and appreciated.
    Now tell us why you have problems with Merton’s theology.

    • John

      Not much worth saying here, Allan. Fundamentally, I’m not a Catholic, nor a monk, nor a pacifist, and those are three pretty major elements in Brother Merton’s religion! I haven’t read his dialogue with other religions, so I don’t know quite how he responded to them: Maybe I’d agree, maybe I wouldn’t. But I’m not strongly inclined to investigate other religions as he was, largely because I don’t share his strongly mystical bent. But that’s not a disagreement so much as it is a difference in disposition and vocation.

  2. Donna-Jean Brown

    Even on my mini level, compared to your grander scale, after a week of being with grandchildren, one of whom asked me “Who do you love most, me or God?”, I relished the quiet peace of sitting silently in a Muskoka/Adirondack chair, listening to the breeze in the pines. There is such wisdom in the wind’s and waves’ ebbing and flowing. I’m glad you’re enjoying both for all they’re worth!

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