Saturday, August 8, 2009

Part 2: Chapter 2, Waters of Contradiction

From his beginnings as a practical atheist and narcissist, Merton had now progressed to the point where he was concerned with much less mortal sins, such as pride. He found a new enthusiasm for writing poems but struggled with his motives.
Was he too selfish in his desire to see his name in print? Shouldn't his motive for writing only be to glorify God and teach his word?
It is at this point when he realized that the occasional trips to church he was taking would not be enough to rescue his mind from its polluted state.
"All this would have been enough for an ordinary Catholic, with a lifetime of faithful practice of his religion behind him: but for me it could not possibly be enough. A man who has just come out of the hospital, having nearly died there, and having been cut to pieces on an operating table, cannot immediately begin to lead a life of an ordinary working man".

More and more, Merton desired a retreat from the world with solitude and contemplation. One summer—and, as it turned out, many other times—Merton and his friends—principally Bob Lax and Ed Rice—lived in a cottage in the hills outside Olean in upstate New York. It was a kind-of hermitage and it suited Merton's growing interest in asceticism and contemplation.

The cottage at Olean was a sort-of monastery in itself with a small order or monks whose vocation was writing. All three men were working on novels. The monastery even had its habit—all three grew beards. It was, again, a way that Merton was reaching out for some order, some quiet structure to his life whereby he could cultivate his inward, contemplative soul.

One important event happens during this chapter—World War II begins in Europe. Two things are striking about Merton's description of this event: 1) Even though America wasn't involved, Merton, his friends and the general populace are deeply concerned about it; and, 2) Merton's reaction is one of regret.
He writes, "I myself am responsible for this. My sins have done this. Hitler is not the only one who has started this war: I have my share in it too . . ." This is not just more of Merton wringing his hands over the sins of his youth. There is certainly Biblical precedent for this line of thinking. We are, in fact, our brothers' keepers.
But it also fits Merton especially because he was a global citizen (having lived in three countries and had a father who lived in many more).

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