Church as Training Ground for the ‘Good Life’?

contemplationMany American are starting to ask questions about the “quality” of life as opposed to the “quantity” of stuff. I hope people of faith will step in to this questioning time with the “good news” about lives lived with simple joy, free from undue anxiety, bound by relationships of deep fidelity, and fueled by an economy of grace.

We need to be running classes in this stuff. We need to be leading the trainings – this is what Sunday worship should be about, a training ground for the Good Life in God.

Here’s a quote from Catholic hermit and spiritual writer Thomas Merton:

The life of contemplation in action and purity of heart is, then, a life of great simplicity and inner liberty. One is not seeking anything special or demanding any particular satisfaction. One is content with what is. One does what is to be done, and the more concrete it is, the better. One is not worried about the results of what is done. One is content to have good motives and not be too anxious about making mistakes. In this way one can swim with the living stream of life and remain at every moment in contact with God, in the hiddenness and ordinariness of the present moment with its obvious task.–Thomas Merton

From The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (edited by William H. Shannon, HarperSanFrancisco, 2003)

Merton’s Mature Lent

Part of an adult experience of Lent is wrestling with thought’s like Merton’s below:

Where is my dignity? Timur I. Poerwowidagdo, Indonesia
Where is my dignity? Timur I. Poerwowidagdo, Indonesia

How many people are there in the world of today who have “lost their faith” along with the vain hopes and illusions of their childhood? What they called “faith” was just one among all the other illusions. They placed all their hope in a certain sense of spiritual peace, of comfort, of interior equilibrium, of self-respect. Then when they began to struggle with the real difficulties and burdens of mature life, when they became aware of their own weakness, they lost their peace, they let go of their precious self-respect, and it became impossible for them to “believe.” That is to say it became impossible for them to comfort themselves, to reassure themselves, with the images and concepts they found reassuring in childhood.

Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, of spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days-until you fold up and collapse into despair.–Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation

Merton on Falling Through the Roof

Thomas Merton was an Trappist monk, mystic, and writer who shaped modern American Catholicism. He lived in Kentucky for most of his life.

In the afternoon I went out to the old horse barn with the Book of Proverbs and indeed the whole Bible, and I was wandering around in the hayloft, where there is a big gap in the roof. One of the rotting floorboards gave way under me and I nearly feel through.
gingrich-farm-crop2 Afterwards I sat and looked out at the hills and the gray clouds and couldn’t read anything. When the flies got too bad, I wandered across the bare pasture and sat over by the enclosure wall, perched on the edge of a ruined bathtub that has been placed there for the horses to drink out of. A pipe comes through the wall and plenty of water flows into the bathtub from a spring somewhere in the woods, and I couldn’t read there either. I just listened to the clean water flowing and looked at the wreckage of the horsebarn on top of the bare knoll in front of me and remained drugged with happiness and with prayer.–Thomas Merton

Entering the Silence, Journals Volume 1. Jonathan Montaldo, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p 363)

An ‘Occupied Heart’

“Justify my soul, O God, but also from Your fountains fill my will with fire. Shine thom4in my mind, although perhaps this means ‘be darkness to my experience,’ but occupy my heart with Your tremendous Life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but Your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for Your service. Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise Your great mercy. I will hear Your voice, and I will hear all the harmonies you have created singing your hymns. Sheep’s wool and cotton from the field shall warm me enough that I may live in Your service; I will give the rest to the poor. Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving You glory.” –Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions Press, 1961, p. 44)