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My Journey of Spiritual Reading

Tag Archives: thomas merton

The Life You Save…

I have recently become aware that, while I do love to read, I love making lists of books to read so much more.  Perhaps that is not completely accurate, but I have a lot of fun looking at books and admiring them, reading reviews and samples, and of course, making lists of books to read.  Ironically, I have yet to complete a booklist that I have made.  I will come as close as I ever have this year, but the fact remains – I seem to be better at planning and preparing to read books that I am at actually reading the books.

So, it should come as no suprise to the two readers of this blog that I have recently been thinking on the books I want to read for next year.  Here are some options:

Augustine’s Confessions – this was on my list this year, but I bailed due to time constraints and general inability to keep my mind on anything longer than a ….

The Life You Save May Be Your Own – being such a Merton fan, it is natural that I would like to read him in correspondence with some other pretty great writers – Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day

Cloud Atlas and/or Life of Pi – two books made into movies this year.  From what I have read, the movies suck, but that is pretty standard.  I might give one or both of these a read in 2013 or I might not.

The History of English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 – this is a book that I have owned for a couple of years.  You can be assured of it’s popularity by noticing the $.o1 price tag for the used hardback on Amazon.  Everybody wants one!

The Complete Stories: Flannery O’Connor – I have never read any Flannery O’Connor.  I want to read The Life You Save (above) and then maybe take a swing at this one.  Of course, I might not like the first book which would put the reading of this book into serious question.  But I do have a guy who will shame me greatly if I demur, so…

The Waters of Siloe by Thomas Merton – A new Merton book (new to me) that I picked up for a song on amazon.  I read all Merton….

Also, I have made another change to the 2012 book list.  I am replacing David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas with David Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow.  I have already started Stone of Hope after finishing Merton.  It is really good.  I look forward to sharing some of it on this blog.

Detachment

Well, I am back after all this time.  Trying to keep a blog going is extremely difficult for someone as spiritually scatterbrained as I can be.  My reading has waned in these late Summer, early Fall weeks, much as it did last year.  I had thought that last year’s swoon was primarily due to my hectic schedule, but this year my schedule was at least a little less hectic and I found that I swooned again.  There is a lot of swooning going on around here.  So, I guess it is not so much about my schedule but more about my laziness.  August and September are hard times for me to read for some reason.

But it is October and I am reading Merton.  I am picking up where I left off in New Seeds of Contemplation and there seems to be a rejuvenation of sorts coming to me as I read.  The more I am reading, the stronger my desire to read becomes.  Merton can have that effect on you.  Perhaps I should save my Merton readings for the hard part of the year!  Or, perhaps I should just be more disciplined.  In any event, I am thinking on detachment.

I wonder if there are twenty men alive in the world now who see things as they really are.  That would mean that there were twenty men who were free, who were not dominated or even influenced by any attachment to any created thing or to their own selves or to any gift of God, even to the highest, the most supernaturally pure of His graces.  I don’t believe that there are twenty such men alive in the world.  But there must be one or two.  They are the ones who are holding everything together and keeping the universe from falling apart.” – Thomas Merton, Detachment.

What is detachment?  I mean much more than mere austere living for its own sake.  There are those who tell me that life is to be found in abnegation.  When you deny yourself earthly gifts and pleasures then you are really living the life of the disciple!  I think that this kind of detachment is more about the person than it is about God.  I mean that a lot of people are living these austere lives because they get some kind of satisfaction out of it, which is itself another earthly pleasure.  So, there is no real detachment.  It is only an attachment to something else, namely the good feeling they get, their satisfaction in themselves and their actions.  I don’t think there is any real detachment in that.

Perhaps true detachment is renunciation in the hopes of annunciation.  That the forsaking of earthly things would result in a deepening of the sense of God’s presence with you, i.e. living a life of self-abnegation in the hopes that He would condescend to bless me with a vision, or sign, or a truth.  There is no doubt that these things are good and worthy of desire.  It is equally true that God can and does do these things in the life of the believer.  And yet, there seems to be inside of this form of renunciation a subtle selfishness, a sort of manipulation of God.  It is not real detachment because I am still doing it for selfish motives.  Granted, it’s not selfish like fasting to win the lottery is selfish, but it still has tentacles of selfishness embedded into it.  So, even this prized and worthy idea of detachment is tainted and not really detachment.  What’s a brother to do?

“You will never be able to have perfect interior peace and recollection unless you are detached even from the desire of peace and recollection.  You will never be able to pray perfectly until you are detached from the pleasures of prayer.

If you give up all these desires and seek one thing only, God’s will, He will give you recollection and peace in the middle of labor and conflict and trial.”

True detachment is about seeking.  If I detach myself from the world or from anything for any reason other than union with Christ, then it is not real detachment.  It is just another form of attachment.  And at the very best, I am only seeking myself.  Somehow, in someway, I am to empty myself of all that is self.  In that emptiness and darkness, I will find God.  And more importantly, He will find me, not the fake me so enslaved to my ego, or my false idea of myself, but the real me.

It is God alone Who I am to seek, not His blessings.
It is God alone Who I am to desire, not His gifts.
It is God alone with Whom I long to be in union, not to manipulate with tainted words.

Who is my neighbor?

Over the course of this year, I hope to read through all the Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald.  I have blogged on old George before and I find his writing sublime.  More importantly, I find his understanding of the nature of God to be so refreshing to my soul, that I put his work in the rarefied air (at least in my humble opinion) of such writers as Thomas Merton, A. W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton.  Simply put, perhaps no other post-biblical writer has drawn me closer to the Presence of God at work in my life than George MacDonald.

This week, I take an excerpt from the sermon Love Thy Neighbor as this week’s quote of the week.  Loving my neighbor is not something that I easily do because of my rampant self-centeredness.  I’d much rather love my friends or love my family.  I find it very easy to love the one who loves me or the one who will do something for me.  All others fall into the hazy mist created by the very selfish question, who is my neighbor?  In that hazy mist, I vainly think I can choose who I have to love and who I can get away with not loving.  MacDonald, like Jesus, clears the fog from my eyes.

Who is my neighbor?

He with whom I have any transactions, any human dealings whatever.  Not the man only with whom I dine; not the friend only with whom I share my thoughts; not the man only whom my compassion would lift from some slough; but the man who makes my clothes; the man who prints my book; the man who drives me in his cab; the man who begs from me in the street, to whom it may be, for brotherhood’s sake, I must not give; yea, even the man who condescends to me.  With all and each there is a chance of doing the part of a neighbor; if in no other way yet by speaking truly, acting justly, and thinking kindly.  Even these deeds will help to that love which is born of righteousness.  All true action clears the springs of right feeling, and lets their waters rise and flow.  A man must not choose his neighbor; he must take the neighbor that God sends him.  In Him, whoever he be, lies, hidden or revealed, a beautiful brother.  The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you in contact.

Thus will love spread and spread in wider and stronger pulses till the whole human race will be to the man sacredly lovely.  Drink-debased, vice-defeatured, pride-puffed, wealth-bollen, vanity-smeared, they will yet be brothers, yet be sisters, yet be God-born neighbors. Any rough-hewn semblance of humanity will at length be enough to move the man to reverence and affection.  It is harder for some to learn thus than for others.  There are whose first impulse is ever to repel and not to receive.

You can insert my name here at this point.

But learn they may, and learn they must.  Even these may grow in this grace until a countenance unknown will awake in them a yearning of affection rising to pain, because there is for it no expression, and they can only give the man to God and be still.

Then, there is hope.  May the God who loves me firstly and purely and roundly and magnificently teach me of this love for my fellow man, yea my neighbor, not the one I choose for myself, but the one next to me, the one God has given me.  Indeed!  May He teach us all.