Merton – on Suffering and Oneness

September 29, 2009 — 1 Comment

mertonThomas Merton – Trappist Monk and prolific author (1915-1968) wrote a book of reflections on the spiritual life called No Man Is An Island.  It’s the kind of book where you can read a few pages and it takes hours to digest.  My Monday off was Merton day.  My reading tied in with our current series, I am the Church and Sunday’s teaching on Connecting with God – our call to maturity as individuals and a church.

Merton makes a distinction between what he calls physical evil (suffering) and moral evil (always involving sin).  He says physical evil is only to be regarded as real evil insofar as it moves us toward sin.  Here’s an excerpt:

Physical evil has no power to penetrate beneath the surface of our being.  It can touch our flesh, our mind, our sensibility.  It cannot harm our spirit without the work of that other evil which is sin.  If we suffer courageously, quietly, unselfishly, peacefully, the things that wreck our outer being only perfect us within, and make us…more truly ourselves because they enable us to fulfill our destiny in Christ (Romans, chapter 8?)…and when they come we should receive them with gratitude and joy. (James, chapter 1?)

The Christian…knows the peace of one who has conquered everything.  Why is this?  Because Christianity is Christ living in us, and Christ has conquered everything.  Furthermore, He has united us to one another in Himself.  We all live together in the power of His death which overcame death.  We neither suffer alone nor conquer alone…In Him we are inseparable:  therefore we are free to be fruitfully alone whenever we please, because wherever we go, whatever we suffer, whatever happens to us, we are united with those we love in Him because we are united with Him.  His love is so much stronger than death that the death of a Christian is a kind of triumph.  (pp. 90-91)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)


One response to Merton – on Suffering and Oneness


    Good afternoon, Lyle. Good stuff from Thos. Merton. As it turns out, my path has also been winding through the writings of Merton the last couple years. I have also found wisdom in his book “Spiritual Direction & Meditation,” and spiritual direction in “New Seeds of Contemplation” and “Contemplactive Prayer”–though these are for those called to a more contemplative spiritual path.

    And he also openly, bravely moves toward a more shared spiritual space and understanding with various Eastern spiritual traditions, including Mahayana/Chan/Zen Buddhism (“The Zen Birds of Appetite”) and Taoism and a Taoist master (“The Way of Chuang Tzu”).” He goes open-heartedly and open-mindedly where God’s Spirit leads him. And broader, deeper understandings often follow.

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