Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Intersection-Spiritual Action

As mentioned before here and in the main themes of Merton's own writing and thought, our society lacks a careful, non-jealous, and non-envious love, a love linked to God that even includes the oppressor. The careful balance a spiritualist must strike between allowing proper and lawful justice for the oppressor, without losing sight of his inner spiritual core and the need to compassionately address the obstacles blocking that core, is of a magnitude of the highest maturity.

When we see someone we label as an “enemy”, we are actually seeing ourselves. We are actually the seeing worst part of our own nature personified, and we become so repulsed that we dehumanize that other person and prepare to destroy him/her without a trace, as if missiles and concentration camps are the only and most effective solution. In that other person who so viscerally represents our worst nature is an incredible opportunity to unveil and experience the deeper truth of God. Their personage, and their loathsome expressions, and our reactions to it, present to us a test of our own spiritual advancement, realization of that advancement, and capability to apply that realization,

The gift of God's truth and love is at stake in this exchange. Merton writes:

If we really sought truth we would begin slowly and laboriously to divest ourselves one by one of all our coverings of fiction and delusion: or at least we would desire to do so, for mere willing cannot enable us to effect it.

On the contrary, the one who can best point out our error, and help us to see it, is the adversary whom we wish to destroy. This is perhaps why we wish to destroy him. So, too, we can help him to see his error, and that is why he wants to destroy us.

So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own peculiar truth.

Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door to truth. As long as we do not have this love, as long as this love is not active and effective in our lives (for words and good wishes will never suffice) we have no real access to the truth. At least not to moral truth.”1

As I read of the way the Native predecessors of this American land were coldly and quickly eliminated by the conquerors of European fortune and so-called piety, a grain of hate drew into my heart and began to flower and flourish. A clear demarcation line began to come into focus as I explored deeper into my unjust history. From Columbus to Cortez, from Stalin to Nixon, I could not but feel a hatred I had never experienced before in my life, a hatred largely born out of a incredulous incomprehension of these personalities and their deeds. How could someone be so hateful themselves, and not expect those who see through them clearly to return that hate in equal if not deeper fervor?

I sit in this chamber of my heart now, looking around at these past perceptions in a new light of Mertonian and Vedic wisdom. These men, my enemies, are showing me something of myself. They are teaching me a lesson about myself, and I must listen. My deepening sense of personal integrity is forcing me to re-examine all my relationships, most acutely the ones that challenge, in the light of a new obligation, an obligation to earn the deeper love of God, absorb it into my being, and be able to give to others without hesitation and discrimination.

A monk's life, even in New York City, is one where a taste of solitude can bear wonderful fruits. Here a different definition of solitude must be offered than what may originally come to mind, although this original definition is also a valid part of the larger, deeper definition. For solitude is something much more than hiding away and stepping back. It is essentially the effort to see ourselves totally, to make the painful effort to confront the hateful, lower aspects of our nature.

Solitude means to be with ourselves fully and without distraction, to learn who we actually are, to become complete in ourselves and in our spiritual relationships, with God and with our fellow seekers on the path. The fruits of this inner journey must be shared. If they are kept in the cellar of our heart, they will mold and rot, and have no benefit.

Merton writes:

Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs. A struggle against alienation. True solitude is deeply aware of the world's needs. It does not hold the world at arm's length.”2

Immersion in the solitary spirit allows us the necessary detachment and renunciation to process the needs and progression of our own spiritual being, but as the Gita describes, real renunciation fructifies in a spirit of action, of making work the gift of our realizations.

Consider this verse:

The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.3

One of the key lessons of the Gita is to saturate one's work in this necessary mood of detachment. What we become detached from is known as the ahankara, or false ego. This false sense of our reality and our own self is the house of our delusions and our unhealthy habits, the abode of all those tics, illusions, and failures to communicate which tend to derail all of our personal and collective hopes for justice and peace.

The elegant solution of the Gita, as spoken by Krishna, the personification of the Divine, to is to dovetail the intentions and the results of our actions towards His pleasure and His will. God is the source of love and of all justice and mercy, and by directing the energy of our work for love and justice towards this source, we call down upon us the element of divinity missing from our all-too-human struggle. We detach from our sense that we alone can reverse the tides of the diabolic in this world and attach to the need for the help and guidance of God, who believe it or not, cares and is invested just as much as we are, if not more, in uplifting the downtrodden.

Through this work, through this action, we learn the eternal and affirming art of bringing out the spirit of justice to correct the imbalances that offend our sense of decency and being.

Speaking from a Christian perspective easily seen in a universal light, Merton writes about the practical combination of spirit and social justice:

Christian social action is first of all action that discovers religion in politics, religion in work, religion in social programs for better wages, Social Security, etc...In a word, if we really understood the meaning of Christianity in social life we would see it as part of the redemptive work of Christ, liberating man from misery, squalor, subhuman living conditions, economic or political slavery, ignorance, alienation.”4

Elaborating further on the spiritual essence of social action, Merton writes:

It is an attempt to elevate man, whether professedly Christian or not, to a level consonant with his dignity as a son of God...liberated from the powers that keep him in subjection, the old dark gods of war, lust, power, and greed.

In such a context, political action itself is a kind of spiritual action, an expression of spiritual responsibility.”5


1Merton, 68-69

2Merton, 19


4Merton, 82

5Merton, 82

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