I don’t have much to say at the moment as most of my mental energy is being poured into final papers. But I wanted to share some gems from Thomas Merton encountered in my research. I’ve been exploring Merton’s engagement with Taoism and Zen Buddhism and his appropriation of each for Christian spirituality.
This is first of three papers in process. I’m also working on a comparative methodological study of Spener (17th German Pietist theologian) and Schleiermacher (18th century German liberal theologian) as well as a comparative ethical study of Luther and Aquinas (more dead guys) applied to contemporary church discipleship/spiritual formation. A nice diversity of topics...a little spirituality, a little theology, a little ethics. Though I think when all is said and done, the Merton paper (which has been the most ambitious and time-consuming) will have been the most fun.
Some Merton gems before I get back to work:
From Thoughts in Solitude on learning and growing:
Living is not thinking. Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new. (28)
From Thoughts on the East on Zen and a very American problem:
We in the West, living in a tradition of stubborn egocentric practicality and geared entirely for the use and manipulation of everything, always pass from one thing to another, from cause to effect, from the first to the next and to the last and then back to the first. Everything always points to something else, and hence we never stop anywhere because we cannot: as soon as we pause, the escalator teaches the end of the ride and we have to get off and find another one. Nothing is allowed just to be and to mean itself: everything has to mysteriously signify something else. Zen is especially designed to frustrate the mind that thinks in such terms. The Zen “fact,” whatever it may be, always lands across our road like a fallen tree beyond which we cannot pass. (40)
From Thoughts on the East on Tao and (as I interpret Merton) on an appropriate epistemic humility, on control, and on mystery:
If there is a correct answer to the question “What is the Tao?” it is: “I don’t know.”…The whole secret of life lies in the discovery of this Tao which can never be discovered….The world is a sacred vessel which must not be tampered with or grabbed after. To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it. (12)
From The Asian Journal on the value of interfaith dialogue (Merton concerned himself with dialogue about practice more than about doctrine):
I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism, and to these great Asian traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own traditions….The combination of the natural techniques and the graces and the other things that have been manifested in Asia, and the Christian liberty of the gospel should bring us all at last to that full and transcendent liberty which is beyond mere cultural differences and mere externals. (xxiv)
Okay, enough quote bombs. Back to work.