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Thomas Merton - Progressive Christian?


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I thought it might be a good idea to begin a thread about Thomas Merton. He is a bit of a mentor of mine for one reason or another.

 

It was suggested to me that it would be best to open it in a context of whether or not he could be considered a Progressive. Obviously, as a Catholic convert, and a Trappist monk, one might be led to believe he was more a defender of the True Faith. Yet from my own reading of his letters and journals - as well as several of his published books, which were more heavily censured by his Church - it has become apparent, at least in my view, that he became virtually a "free spirit" during his last few years.

 

Perhaps one thing that "progressives" have in common is that at some time they begin to genuinely question the "truths" they have inherited. As a starter to this thread, I thought it best to begin with some extracts from a letter written by Merton to the Catholic feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. The letter is dated January 29, 1967.

 

........to begin with the Church: I have no problem about "leaving" or anything. My problem with "authority" is just the usual one and I can survive it. But the real Church. I am simply browned off with and afraid of Catholics.......There are a few I can stand with equanimity when I forget they are Catholics, and remember they are just my friends.........I love the monks but they might as well be in China.(Merton by this time lived a life of solitude in his hermitage, some distance from the main monastery) I love all the well-meaning people who go to Mass and want things to get better and so on, but I understand Zen Buddhists better than I do them and the Zens understand me better. But this is awful because where is the church and where am I in the church? (have you any idea?) An idea of the Church in which projects and crusades (ancient and modern) or ideas (new or old) or policies or orthodoxies (old or new) don't stand in the way between people. Is the Church a community of people who love each other or a big dogfight where you do your religious business, seeking meanwhile your friends somewhere else...........I know this is a pretty bad letter.......but I do wonder at times if the church is real at all. I believe it, you know. But I wonder if I am nuts to do so. Am I part of a great big hoax? I don't explain myself as well as I would like to: there is a real sense of and confidence in an underlying reality, the presence of Christ in the world which I don't doubt for an instant. But is that presence where we are all saying it is? We are all pointing in various directions and my dreadful feeling is that we are all pointing wrong.......

 

To be honest, his words here bring me close to tears. And for me they are words (questions) that perhaps all "progessives" ask.

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Tariki,

 

It was a very sad letter indeed to me also. It reminded me of similar feelings that i also felt and opinions i had when i found i no longer did fit in orthodox Christianity as defined by the fundamental church system that i was also part of the clergy of. It must have been during his painful transition to a more progressive understanding of Christianity.

 

You said this was written in 1967. By your perception from his writings and letters, when did Merton seem to come to a more compassionate understanding of those he was hurt by in his Catholic faith? At what point in his life was this letter?

 

His letter seemed to me to echo the transitional thoughts that many here have shared over the years of their own transition.

 

Joseph

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Tariki,

 

It was a very sad letter indeed to me also. It reminded me of similar feelings that i also felt and opinions i had when i found i no longer did fit in orthodox Christianity as defined by the fundamental church system that i was also part of the clergy of. It must have been during his painful transition to a more progressive understanding of Christianity.

 

You said this was written in 1967. By your perception from his writings and letters, when did Merton seem to come to a more compassionate understanding of those he was hurt by in his Catholic faith? At what point in his life was this letter?

 

His letter seemed to me to echo the transitional thoughts that many here have shared over the years of their own transition.

 

Joseph

 

Joseph,

 

 

I think for Merton the questions he was asking revolved around other questions that had been with him for virtually all his monastic life. Possibly any "Progressive" has their very own personal conundrums that are derived from their own unique circumstances - though broad common factors can be discerned. For Merton the questions had to do with his own vow of obediance to his superiors, a vow he took very seriously indeed; also, another question that was always on the edge of his thinking.......the role of the monk in the modern world. I think that it is in the context of these questions that his "fear" of certain Catholics should be seen. Hopefully it is not "hero worship" on my own part to say lack of compassion may only have played a minor role!

 

To give a taste of this context, here are some extracts from another letter, this time written in April 1962, to a friend, James Forest. Merton had become deeply involved with the "peace question" (Cold War), nuclear weapons, the Vietnam war, and had seen his own place as being that of a human being who should speak out. His superiors disapproved and eventually forbade him to speak about such issues in any way.........

 

This (ban) reflects an astounding incomprehension of the seriousness of the present crisis in its religious aspect. It reflects an insensitivity to Christian and ecclesiastical values, and to the real sense of the monastic vocation. The reason given is that this is not the right kind of work for a monk, and that it "falsifies the monastic message". Imagine that: the thought that a monk might be deeply enough concerned with the issue of nuclear war to voice a protest against the arms race, is supposed to bring the monastic life into disrepute. Man, I would think that it might just possibly salvage a last shred of repute for an institution that many consider to be dead on its feet....

 

....these authoritarian minds believe that the function of the monk is not to see or hear any new dimension, but simply to support the already existing viewpoints precisely insofar as and because they are defined for him by somebody else. He has no other function, then, except perhaps to pray for what he is told to pray for: namely the purposes and objectives of an ecclesiastical bureaucracy....He must be an eye that sees nothing except what is carefully selected for him to see. An ear that hears nothing except what is advantageous for the managers for him to hear. We know what Christ said about such ears and eyes.

 

Merton then speaks about his own position, and ends by saying he will comply, not ultimately out of agreement or disagreement, but.......out of love for God who is using these things to attain an end which I myself cannot at the moment see or comprehend....

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Tariki,

 

Perhaps i misinterpreted and would now after reading the earlier letter retract my hasty perception statement about a more compassionate view of those who hurt him as i see from this....

 

Merton then speaks about his own position, and ends by saying he will comply, not ultimately out of agreement or disagreement, but.......out of love for God who is using these things to attain an end which I myself cannot at the moment see or comprehend....

 

that he had a great trust even before that letter of 1967 that God had a purpose in all these things even though Merton himself could not comprehend it at the time.

 

His personal vows to the church must have been very important to him? Coming out of a religion is a most difficult step especially when one has taken vows. Did he have second thoughts in later life or wish he had broken free from the church system or did he remain with them until his death even though his beliefs were more progressive?

Joseph

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The question of authority or, perhaps, the questioning of authority is a central theme of progressives whether within Christianity or the general body of progressive thought to be found in all of the major religions, secular humanism, and atheism. Authority, the "status quo", is seen as often inhibiting progress, both social and individual?

 

"Process is the growth and attainment of a final end ... the internal process whereby the actual entity becomes itself (Whitehead, 1929, p. 150)."

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Tariki,

 

Perhaps i misinterpreted and would now after reading the earlier letter retract my hasty perception statement about a more compassionate view of those who hurt him as i see from this....

 

 

 

that he had a great trust even before that letter of 1967 that God had a purpose in all these things even though Merton himself could not comprehend it at the time.

 

His personal vows to the church must have been very important to him? Coming out of a religion is a most difficult step especially when one has taken vows. Did he have second thoughts in later life or wish he had broken free from the church system or did he remain with them until his death even though his beliefs were more progressive?

Joseph

 

 

I think we have to understand that for Merton there was the question of the "authority" of the Catholic Church as such, and then the actual vow he had taken when he joined the monastic community (Trappist), which involved "submission to his superiors."

 

(The first quote I gave really only concerns the first, the authority of the Church.)

 

As far as the monastic vow is concerned, Merton identified "true" obedience with "love"........he said in a letter true obedience ( which is synonymous with love).... Perhaps others could reflect upon that and help me understand?

 

Personally, judging by all that I have read, there was never any question of Merton either leaving the monastic community or the Church, no matter the various rumours that circulated at one time. I think anyones faith can either be a fortress to be defended on all sides, or a rock upon which they can stand and from it reach out to the world. Merton's was for me the latter, very much so. The rock was fidelity to Christ and the Mercy/Grace of God. Yet he understood this foundation much in the tradition of the negative way of Christian mysticism, growing more and more to see/share the insight of those like Eckhart and St John of the Cross who "knew" the divine beyond "image".

 

So the way I understand is that Merton never tried too hard to "comprehend" the way he walked. Two examples - one from his letters and one from an introduction to one of his books - express this.........In a letter he spoke of the road to joy, which is mysteriously revealed to us without our exactly realizing. And from the introduction .......All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscaped with paradox and contradiction, yet centered, in its very heart, on the divine mercy...

 

And as this quote from his writings.....If you want to find satisfactory formulas you had better deal with things that can be fitted into a formula. The vocation to seek God is not one of them. Nor is existence. Nor is the spirit of man.

 

I think all three of these quotations give insight and context to his words on faith.......

 

The reification of faith. Real meaning of the phrase we are saved by faith = we are saved by Christ, whom we encounter in faith. But constant disputation about faith has made Christians become obsessed with faith almost as an object, at least as an experience, a "thing" and in concentrating upon it they lose sight of Christ. Whereas faith without the encounter with Christ and without His presence is less than nothing. It is the deadest of dead works, an act elicited in a moral and existential void. To seek to believe that one believes, and arbitrarily to decree that one believes, and then to conclude that this gymnastic has been blessed by Christ - this is pathological Christianity. And a Christianity of works. One has this mental gymnastic in which to trust. One is safe, one possesses the psychic key to salvation......

 

For me, the "presence the Christ" is beyond definition, beyond creed, beyond words, and to seek to capture it and make it our "own" is lack of faith, not its expression. Perhaps this is one of the things at the heart of any "progressive", the recognition that to seek to impose our own definitions on any other human being is error. Each of us is unique.

 

The true solutions are not those which we force upon life in accordance with our theories, but those which life itself provides for those who dispose themselves to receive the truth. From "Raids on the Unspeakable."

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For me, the "presence the Christ" is beyond definition, beyond creed, beyond words, and to seek to capture it and make it our "own" is lack of faith, not its expression. Perhaps this is one of the things at the heart of any "progressive", the recognition that to seek to impose our own definitions on any other human being is error. Each of us is unique.

 

I like this quote. Is it his or yours?

 

As far as the monastic vow is concerned, Merton identified "true" obedience with "love"........he said in a letter true obedience ( which is synonymous with love).... Perhaps others could reflect upon that and help me understand?

 

I certainly do not understand it as such either. True obedience to me of course is not to the physical church i was affiliated with. While i do understand an obligation to authority, i would agree with minsocal that the questioning is progressive in nature. The NT does read that our leaders are put there for our good and we should obey those over us but i do not see some of those type writings as inspired by God but rather the church organization. smile.gif

 

There seems to me to be a point where we follow Christ in love and it separates us from organized religion much as Jesus separated himself. What did Merton mean by true obedience? And to whom or what? I certainly admire Merton from many of the quotes you have posted over the years. And i am not qualified to criticize him but i am puzzled and amazed at his words having such intensity and breath while his obedience remained loyal to the very thing his wisdom seemed to expose as false.

Perhaps i need help to understand also how true obedience to church superiors is identified with the love that is in God?

 

Oh well the 4th is almost upon us already and perhaps you or someone else can shed some more light on this subject when the fireworks are over.

Joseph

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I like this quote. Is it his or yours?

 

 

 

I certainly do not understand it as such either. True obedience to me of course is not to the physical church i was affiliated with. While i do understand an obligation to authority, i would agree with minsocal that the questioning is progressive in nature. The NT does read that our leaders are put there for our good and we should obey those over us but i do not see some of those type writings as inspired by God but rather the church organization. smile.gif

 

There seems to me to be a point where we follow Christ in love and it separates us from organized religion much as Jesus separated himself. What did Merton mean by true obedience? And to whom or what? I certainly admire Merton from many of the quotes you have posted over the years. And i am not qualified to criticize him but i am puzzled and amazed at his words having such intensity and breath while his obedience remained loyal to the very thing his wisdom seemed to expose as false.

Perhaps i need help to understand also how true obedience to church superiors is identified with the love that is in God?

 

Oh well the 4th is almost upon us already and perhaps you or someone else can shed some more light on this subject when the fireworks are over.

Joseph

 

 

The quote was mine..... :rolleyes: I try to keep to always placing Merton's actual words in italics, but may fail sometimes.

 

Anyway, thinking about obedience, I don't think Merton ever identified true obedience with obedience towards his superiors or towards the authority of the Church as such. I think there is another quote from Merton I can give (which was posted by someone on another thread) which perhaps illuminates the question......

 

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

 

To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.

 

We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.

 

Perfect spiritual freedom is a total inability to make any evil choice. When everything you desire is truly good and every choice not only aspires to that good but attains it, then you are free because you do everything that you want, every act of your will ends in perfect fulfillment.

 

Freedom therefore does not consist in an equal balance between good and evil choices but in the perfect love and acceptance of what is really good and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and makes you happy, and you refuse and deny and ignore every possibility that might lead to unhappiness and self-deception and grief. Only the man who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all, is truly free. God, in whom there is absolutely no shadow or possibility of evil or of sin, is infinitely free. In fact, he is Freedom.

 

From "New Seeds of Contemplation"

 

Early in Merton's monastic life, judging by the journals, he experienced the pure worth of obedience as such and therefore the efficacy of the vows he had taken. Coming from his secular life, he surrendered totally to those who within the Church were appointed to guide his young Cistercian (Trappist) vocation. Later, as we see, he came to question some of the guidance offered, and the "orders" given. Merton's situation, I think, was based upon having seen and experienced the worth of "blind" obedience.........and I think if we reflect upon the idea that the Divine leads in ways not totally comprehensible to us at any given time (as Merton saw) then obviously the question of who or what to obey becomes very problematic. One cannot merely identify the "good" or the "true" with ones own will. It is a time for genuine existential questions, perhaps time for insight into and openess and surrender to true grace and mercy. Not in specific "answers" as such.

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Tariki,

 

Merton's words seem very difficult for me to understand. Is the reason he considers an evil choice not freedom because the choice is not really a conscious choice but rather a conditioned one?

 

Freedom therefore does not consist in an equal balance between good and evil choices but in the perfect love and acceptance of what is really good and the perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil, so that everything you do is good and makes you happy, and you refuse and deny and ignore every possibility that might lead to unhappiness and self-deception and grief. Only the man who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all, is truly free. God, in whom there is absolutely no shadow or possibility of evil or of sin, is infinitely free. In fact, he is Freedom.

 

What does he mean by or what is "perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil" ? I have come in my journey to be in acceptance of all things (not as in apathy but without inner resistance to what is) including that which appears as evil to some. The demarcation line of good and evil to my mind is an arbitrary point of conditioned mind on the continuum line of love. Therefor they are abstract terms and in a way a conundrum to me.

 

Eating from the (tree of) knowledge of good and evil to me is a trap i was once caught in. Is it not found in the Law both written and unwritten which both Jesus and Paul in their writings pointed a way of escape? How then do i choose between things since i neither label them good or evil and have incomplete understanding? I do not choose. I merely surrender my illusion that my choice is truly free and allow the Life that is within me to express itself. If no peace or only confusion is found in this then i find that i have not yet fully surrendered to that Life within and it is yet my conditioning making the choice. Is Merton saying the same thing in different words?

 

 

Joseph

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Tariki,

 

Merton's words seem very difficult for me to understand. Is the reason he considers an evil choice not freedom because the choice is not really a conscious choice but rather a conditioned one?

 

 

 

What does he mean by or what is "perfect hatred and rejection of what is evil" ? I have come in my journey to be in acceptance of all things (not as in apathy but without inner resistance to what is) including that which appears as evil to some. The demarcation line of good and evil to my mind is an arbitrary point of conditioned mind on the continuum line of love. Therefor they are abstract terms and in a way a conundrum to me.

 

Eating from the (tree of) knowledge of good and evil to me is a trap i was once caught in. Is it not found in the Law both written and unwritten which both Jesus and Paul in their writings pointed a way of escape? How then do i choose between things since i neither label them good or evil and have incomplete understanding? I do not choose. I merely surrender my illusion that my choice is truly free and allow the Life that is within me to express itself. If no peace or only confusion is found in this then i find that i have not yet fully surrendered to that Life within and it is yet my conditioning making the choice. Is Merton saying the same thing in different words?

 

 

Joseph

 

As I see it the first "freedom" in the quote is also the last "freedom" quoted. True freedom is therefore the spontaneous "no working is true working", the spontaeneous doing of that which is good. For me this is being "beyond" good and evil. Nevertheless, being in the world, the existential recognition of "evil" surely remains? This for me relates to non-duality being NOT the opposite of duality, but rather embracing it. Acting is not necessarily "choice" when it is "true working".

 

I really do think that in many circumstanece we must speak against that which is wrong, and act against it, as far as our understanding goes. For me "enlightenment" does not inertia and the inability to distinquish. Non-judgemental acceptance of what is, for me, does not negate the opposites in this sense.

 

Sorry, I may be talking nonsense and contradicting myself. For me it all relates more to being non-judgemental towards other human beings, acceptance of all, and acceptance of self.

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Eating from the (tree of) knowledge of good and evil to me is a trap i was once caught in.

 

Just another quick word re the above, I think that if such "eating" is recognised as a necessary stage (in the spirit of "O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem," "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer) in the Divine's gift of sharing "His" nature/being/emptiness/suchness (!!!!) with "others", then it gives much to reflect upon with regards to theodicy, the relationship between the Divine love and suffering. Maybe a need for another thread.

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Anyway, to keep the ball rolling, and maybe draw forth some further interaction with others here, another Thomas Merton quote that is relevant with regard to Points 2 (and 4)

 

From a letter to D T Suzuki, the "zen man", written in April 1959......

 

I want to speak for this Western world.................which has in past centuries broken in upon you and brought you our own confusion, our own alienation, our own decrepitude, our lack of culture, our lack of faith...........If I wept until the end of the world, I could not signify enough of what this tragedy means. If only we had thought of coming to you to learn something..............If only we had thought of coming to you and loving you for what you are in yourselves, instead of trying to make you over into our own image and likeness. For me it is clearly evident that you and I have in common and share most intimately precisely that which, in the eyes of conventional Westerners, would seem to separate us. The fact that you are a Zen Buddhist and I am a Christian monk, far from separating us, makes us most like one another. How many centuries is it going to take for people to discover this fact?......

 

Its worth another quote here.........The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

 

(Sorry, I'm not able to give a reference for this as I've lifted it from another Forum where no refernce was given except that it was attributed to Merton)

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Yes, a necessary stage. Didn't know you were fluent in Latin. rolleyes.gif

 

IMO, that last post does fit in very nicely with points 2 and 4 of TCPC. I can see why you find his writings so appealing. Perhaps others have comments?

 

Joseph

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Just to add a few more things concerning the openess of Thomas Merton to others, beginning with another quote of his......

 

The more I am able to affirm others, to say 'yes' to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.

 

I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further.

 

So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindu's, the Buddhists, etc. This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot 'affirm' and 'accept,' but first one must say 'yes' where one really can.

 

(From "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander")

 

Merton's vow of obedience has been mentioned, and for Trappists it would have included a vow of silence - which in most cases would have ended Merton's writing career. But in this his "superiors" made no such demand and actively encouraged him to continue to write. As well as the formal published books - all well censored by the Church - he was a frequent writer of letters. He wrote about Allah, Anglicanism, Asia, the Bible, The Blessed Virgin, Buddhism, China, Christ, Christendom, Church, conscience, contemplation, and the cold war; about Eckhart, ecumenism. God, happiness, his hermitage, and his hospital interludes; about illusions, Islam, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King, the Koran, Latin America, liturgy, the love of God, poetry, political tyranny, precursors of Christ, prophets, psalms, silence, solitude; about technology, Trinity, unity, the will of God, his own writings.

 

As the blurb goes....."Many of his letters are skillfully, if almost always hurriedly, crafted....one has the feeling that letter writing was not for him the chore that it often is for others.......his style was admirably suited to the art.......it was personal and intimate; almost always lively and almost never heavy; at times deadly serious and deeply perceptive; at other times carefree, jovial, and even hilariously funny; never solemn, often light, and even breezy."

 

And he sought to say "yes" where he could, yet never betrayed his fidelity to Christ or his trust in the Mercy/Grace of God. His exploration and openess to Buddhism has been a special light for me. For one so steeped in Church history and teachings, for one so familiar with Christianities spiritual/mystical tradition, for one who themself meditated each day and spent hours in silent contemplation...........for such a one to recognise D T Suzuki (and Thich Nhat Hanh) as "brothers" is significant.

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By calling ourselves progressive, we mean we find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes.

 

Just a few things to say - and quote! - regarding this aspect of Thomas Merton's own journey. From my own reading, Merton never comes across as a mere spokesman for the Church. Even in the Church censored books he was rarely didactic, and did say once in his journals that creeds/doctrines should be understood more as parameters set against total error than as definitions of truth as such.

 

One subject that is of interest to many is the "personality" of God, the Divine as "personal" - this in contrast to the "impersonal" nature of the "not-born, not brought-to-being" of "eastern" thought. I thought it would serve two purposes to give a few quotes from Merton's own exploration of the "self" in relation to the Divine; firstly to show how Merton himself was willing to question, and secondly to see what he had to say regarding "personality" as relating to the Divine. (For Christians I would say the whole issue revolves around "Not I, but Christ lives in me")

 

First a few words from a letter Merton wrote to Aldous Huxley in 1958. The letter was about Huxley's claim that "mystical experience" could be captured and made manifest by the use of drugs. Merton questioned this, seeking to distinguish between an experience that was aesthetic and natural from one that is truly mystical and supernatural. He then says ( in his own words he says it "hesitantly" and without claiming "authority")......

 

It seems to me that a fully mystical experience has in its very essence some note of a direct spiritual contact of two liberties............in which God is known not as an "object"........but simply as I AM, or simply AM. But what I mean is that this is not the kind of intuition that smacks of anything procurable because it is a presense of a Person and depends on the liberty of that Person. And lacking the element of free gift, a free act of love on the part of Him Who comes, the experience would lose its specifically mystical quality.

 

Merton continued to explore many of the themes implied within these words in his own exploration and understanding of Buddhism (Zen), and his words often seem to soften the difference he had once spoken of between the "natural" and "supernatural", and this in the relationship between "true" and "false" self.

 

Commenting upon the Buddhist phrase....."If you meet the Buddha, kill him", Merton says.......Here we must be very circumspect. The "Holy Object" must be destroyed in so far as it is an idol embodying the secret desires and powers of the ego-self. On the other hand it is futile and even deadly to simply sweep aside all other idols in order to confirm as absolute and ultimate the idol of an ego-self supposedly endowed with supreme autonomy..........Therefore there is a definite place for disciplines based on an I-Thou relationship between the believer and their God...............but the progressive must also learn to relax their conception of what that goal is and "who it is" that will attain it. To cling too tenaciously to the "self" and its own fulfilment would guarantee that there would be no fulfillment at all.

 

Merton adds.......in respect of a human being being capable of transcendent union with the Ground of Being.....

The person in fact is rooted in that absolute Ground and not in the phenomenal contingency of egohood.....and comes to the conclusion that as soon as there is someone there to have a transcendent experience "the experience" is falsified and indeed becomes impossible.

 

It does seem to me that the whole idea of God as "personal", given we are made in "His" image, and given the exploration of the "self" by Merton (and many others), that there are very wavy dividing lines between "personal and impersonal"!! And one must always remember that such "exploration" is being muted by those immersed in actual contemplation/meditation, and therefore it is not just an intellectual exploration.

 

I could continue with further quotes on this theme, but perhaps enough is enough!

 

P.S. The quotes given above are from "Zen and the Birds of Appetite" published 1968.

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Merton and I have been doing a waltz for quiet a long time. I admit I have to "pick and choose" his work.

 

There is another person whose work more closely reflect progressive Christianity, Bede Griffiths. A student, and later friend of CS Lewis, Griffiths traveled the journey from agnostic to Anglican to Roman Catholic to Indian Holy Man. After his ordination and entrance into a Benedictine monastic community, he was sent to a monastery in southern India where he wrote that, "he found his soul." His works include the first modern discussions of the Divine Feminine, the value of Eastern spirituality to balance Western rationalism and the fundamental unity of all spiritual experience. Since he was Roman Catholic, his writings do reflect the need to be "in conformance with church teachings." He came under scrutiny of Ratzinger's Holy Office at one point.

 

His works have not received the widespread distribution of Merton, perhaps due to there has only been scholarly interest in his work. There are many who believe that Griffiths will eclipse Merton when the spiritual history of the 20th century is written.

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Merton and I have been doing a waltz for quiet a long time. I admit I have to "pick and choose" his work.

 

There is another person whose work more closely reflect progressive Christianity, Bede Griffiths. A student, and later friend of CS Lewis, Griffiths traveled the journey from agnostic to Anglican to Roman Catholic to Indian Holy Man. After his ordination and entrance into a Benedictine monastic community, he was sent to a monastery in southern India where he wrote that, "he found his soul." His works include the first modern discussions of the Divine Feminine, the value of Eastern spirituality to balance Western rationalism and the fundamental unity of all spiritual experience. Since he was Roman Catholic, his writings do reflect the need to be "in conformance with church teachings." He came under scrutiny of Ratzinger's Holy Office at one point.

 

His works have not received the widespread distribution of Merton, perhaps due to there has only been scholarly interest in his work. There are many who believe that Griffiths will eclipse Merton when the spiritual history of the 20th century is written.

 

Hi Lakegazer, thanks for your interest. With me its more of a quick step, but with two left feet..... :D But like you I tend to pick and choose just a little. The letters and journals are my main feeding ground (or dance floor), where the demands of the Catholic Censors were not so stingent, even non-existent! Also his books that explore the "eastern" side of things - I find him a great guide, and regret his far too early passing.

 

Bede Griffiths I also know, though less well. I dipped into his "River of Compassion", which was a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, plus one or two others. I also vaguely remember a biography. Certainly a fine man who gave much evidence of the fruits of the spirit that Christ said indicated a true prophet.

 

I'm sure neither Merton nor Griffiths would have seen themselves as "competing" in any way.

 

all the best

tariki

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LakeGazer, hope you don’t mind if I share a few notes from an article on line, about Griffiths’ view of the feminine divine --

 

Bede had an intense mystical transformation after a stroke, in later years; he wept and could not speak for days. Later he called it the awakening of his repressed feminine side, which demanded integration. He used symbolic language -- the Black Madonna-- to express the divine feminine, saying his experience of her was deeply connected to the Earth-Mother as fertility goddess portrayed in rocks and caves, and all natural forms. He also compared it to the Hindu concept of Shakti, and a vision of unity -- ‘not two, not two.’

 

“I would like to share with you something of my advaitic experience. I feel it was the power of life and nature which struck me. I was deluged with love like never before. The feminine in me opened up and a whole new vision appeared. I saw love as the basic principle of the universe. I saw God in the earth, in trees, in mountains. It led me to the conviction that there is no absolute good or evil in this world. We have to let go of all concepts which divide the world into good and evil, right and wrong, and begin to see the complimentarity of opposites. The Black Madonna symbolizes for me the hidden power of the womb, the feminine in all its forms. I realized that dying to oneself is surrendering to Total Love.”

 

[Two other ancient symbols that come to mind-- Shekinah and Sophia.]

 

Also, on Merton seen as a progressive, here’s an example of his desire to get beyond the ‘battle of the sexes.’ His book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander begins, "Man is most human, and most proves his humanity by the quality of relationship with woman...obsession with virility and conquest makes a true and deep relationship impossible." He questioned the wisdom of priests being celibate. "In the monastery, with our vows of chastity, we are ideally supposed to go beyond married love into something more pure, more perfect, more totally oblative. This should then make us the most human of all people...but that is the trouble: how can one go 'further' than something to which one has not yet attained? This does not mean that one cannot validly embrace a life of virginity until he has first been married...but it does mean that we cannot love perfectly if we have not in some way loved maturely and truly."

Edited by rivanna
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