Sunday, March 28, 2010

The violence of the daily

In her weekly e-mail update titled "Reflection Questions," leadership and life coach Marcia Hyatt quotes Trappist monk and world renowned spiritual author Thomas Merton

"To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times," she asks us to reflect on the ways in which we succumb to the violence of our times.

How intriguing to find Merton relating "good deeds" to the "violence of our times." Certainly, the issues he mentions are ones that concern all who struggle to make good use of their time. Merton, however, is not accusing the works themselves but the way in which we perform those works.

In reflecting on this, I realize that I succumb to this violence each time I forget to be fully present to whatever it is I am doing. Each time I rush through the "now" to get to what should be an “attitude” but instead has become a “place,”: Inner quiet and focus.

Why quiet should be a place toward which I rush might stem from my monastic days when we were warned against the prayer of silence or centering which the church termed “the doctrine [heretical] of quietism.” Catholic Encyclopedia.

"Generally speaking [quietism is]a sort of false or exaggerated mysticism, which under the guise of the loftiest spirituality contains erroneous notions which, if consistently followed, would prove fatal to morality. ...In its essential features Quietism is a characteristic of the religions of India. Both Pantheistic Brahmanism and Buddhism aim at a sort of self-annihilation, a state of indifference in which the soul enjoys an imperturbable tranquility. And the means of bringing this about is the recognition of one's identity with Brahma, the all-god, or, for the Buddhist, the quenching of desire and the consequent attainment of Nirvana, incompletely in the present life, but completely after death."

Thomas Merton helped turn this doctrine on its head by reminding the Church of it’s ancient mystical traditions, diffusing the threat of "heresy," and introducing millions to lives of contemplation. Rather than warning against the falsity of eastern mystic traditions, "Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh."

Perhaps in "succumbing to the violence of our times," I've also "succumbed to the violence of" Church doctrine.
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