For this week’s Monday Merton, I am drawing from chapters 8 and 9 of No Man Is An Island.
Providence is… more than an institution, it is a person. More than a benevolent stranger, He is our Father. And even the term Father is too loose a metaphor to contain all the depths of the mystery: for He loves us more than we love ourselves, as if we were Himself… He Who is infinitely above us, infinitely different from ourselves, infinitely “other” from us, nevertheless dwells in our souls. 132
The thing that is hardest to get our heads around about God is that He is more inside of us than we are inside ourselves. Selfishness is paradoxically to be out of touch with our true selves; it is a superficial comprehension of what our real needs and desires are.
The truth of God lives in our souls more by the power of superior moral courage than by the light of an eminent intelligence… We cannot possess the truth fully until it has entered into the very substance of our life by good habits and by a certain perfection of moral activity. 136-137
This is because truth is more than just facticity. We can come up with all sorts of clever ways of spinning a truth about our world that are all supported by facts. It’s a different thing to live in the truth.
The fulfillment of every individual vocation demands not only the renouncement of what is evil in itself, but also of all the precise goods that are not willed for us by God. The man who is content to keep from disobeying God, and to satisfy his own desires wherever there is nothing to prevent him from doing so, may indeed lead a life that is not evil: but his life will remain a sad confusion of truth and falsity and he will never have the spiritual vision to tell one clearly from the other. 137
It’s one thing to figure out what all the rules are and avoid breaking them so that nobody has anything on you. That could be called living a safe life. It’s different to actively seek and listen for God’s will for your life. The third servant in the parable of the talents did the former, figuring out exactly what he thought was required and not exerting himself an ounce more. To seek God’s will actively means living an inspired life instead of a safe life.
Convention and tradition may seem on the surface to be much the same thing… In actual fact, conventions are the death of real tradition as they are of all real life. They are parasites which attach themselves to the living organism of tradition and devour all its reality, turning int into a hollow formality… Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving–born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way. Convention is simply the ossification of social customs… Tradition is creative. Always original, it always opens out new horizons for an old journey. Convention, on the other hand, is completely unoriginal. It is slavish imitation. 150-151
This is a helpful distinction. I grew up Baptist, and we were always suspicious of any kind of “ritual.” We basically assumed that tradition was always convention, and the only way to avoid “hollow formalities” was to be spontaneous. If you’re doing something that other people have always done without reflecting on its meaning for you, then you’re being conventional. To be traditional means that you have embraced an ancient path because of its meaning.
Do not ask me to love my brother merely in the name of an abstraction–“society,” the “human race,” the “common good”… There are plenty of men who will give up their interests for the sake of “society,”: but cannot stand any of the people they live with. 169
This is an important critique of what often happens in liberalism. People are infatuated with utopian ideas and scandalized by the dissonance of injustice, but none of it is derived in personal relationships. At a recent gathering at the General Board of Church and Society, we were advised to only take up causes according to the needs of people with whom we were in authentic relationships. Always start with the personal.