Monday, May 25, 2009

Ecumenism, Thomas Merton, The Shack, The God Journey and Universal Truth

I have spent a considerable amount of time recently listening to the "churchless" guys at the God Journey podcast. Before you get ahead of me, these Gents are not anti-church or anti-religion by far. They are having a painfully sincere, funny and honest dialogue about the performance misperceptions that churches & ritual appear to have on a good majority of Christian Religion followers, in the light of following Christ scripturally. Wayne and Brad at the God Journey are exploring Christian Thought on a level of Universality that few outside the Catholic/Orthodox Faith dare to tread visibly. These men advocate certain practices of Catholicism and Orthodoxy without even knowing their findings are explored and documented Catholic territory, at times.

(Wayne and Brad also collaborated on the recent popular novel by William Paul Young called "The Shack", which is gaining momentum in the secular fiction world as an insightful take on discovering God and Christianity.)

Anyway....I digressed...

Wayne and Brad recently had a conversation podcast where they discussed excerpts from Thomas Mertons "No man is an island". There are few spiritual resources as rare as Thomas Merton. That is, in the context of carrying on a life completely dedicated to Catholic spiritual thought and experience.

Many and rich are the Churches ancient and not so ancient Fathers, who's footprints are documented in the Theological Halls of higher learning and Seminaries; IE. Aquinas, Augustine, Ignatius, Iraneus, Cyprian, Origin, etc., etc.. While authentic work has been left to our consumption by numerous Church Fathers, Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist cloistered monk and Priest, stands apart due to his ability to put in language the path of the longest spiritual distance known to man, the 18 inches from Heart to Head.

Merton extensively studied many religions including Muslim, Zen Buddhism and Asian philosophy while remaining Catholic. He explored the Faith internally and externally, and was a gifted writer like few others of recent time. It is that combination of his environment and gifted talent that yielded a work called "No man is an island" (Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968.ISBN/ISSN:1590302532).

Merton leads a journey in this book to attempt a language bridge from Head to Heart, or more specifically, he narrates the logic, belief and emotional positions to which we all strive to make more permanent than just factual intellectual understanding. Taking a purely mental understanding and perfecting that belief in the core of our being - actual transformation. This excerpt from "No man is an island" makes the case regarding learning to find love in a relationship with God:

"When we consider that most men want to be loved as if they were Gods, it is hardly surprising that they should despair of receiving the love they think they deserve...and yet our idea of ourselves is so fantastically unreal that we rebel against the lack of love, as though we have been the victims of an injustice. Our whole life is then constructed on the basis of duplicity, we assume others are receiving the kind of appreciation we want for ourselves, and we proceed on the assumption that since we are not loveable as we are, we must become loveable under false pretenses.

As if we were something better than we are.

The real reason why so few men or women believe in God, is that they have ceased to believe that even a God can love them. But their despair is perhaps more respectable than the insincerity of those that think they can trick God into loving them, for something they are not. This kind of duplicity is after all fairly common among so-called believers, who consciously
cling to the hope that God himself, placated by prayer, will support their egotism and their
insincerity and help them achieve their own selfish ends. If we are to love sincerely, and with
simplicity, we are to first overcome the fear of not being loved. This cannot be done by forcing ourselves to believe in some illusion, saying that we are loved when we are not, we must somehow strip ourselves of our greatest illusions about ourselves... and learn to see that we are lovable after all, and in spite of everything... we must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be...we must find our real self in all our elemental poverty and simple dignity, created to be a child of God." (Merton, No man is an island)

Merton is saying we control our connection to God and not through godly performance or good works. The train of "thought" here is not one of spiritual concepts controlled by those outside of mere human, but relational behaviors we enact with ourselves which are the barriers to receiving Truth.

He takes the saying "to thine own self be true" to an infinitely applicable and productive level.

So, Wayne and Brad are impacted by Merton's rays of light, and so they should be, as I am. But this is not "new" and "emergent" (nor are they advertising such) or "churchless" by any stretch of my experience. The God Journey is exploring Christs teaching of self truth, internal humility in its purest sense and thats valuable to every human. Beyond the obvious singular holiness quest of this dialogue, it is infinitely beneficial as Ecumenism.

The Catholic Church, in spite of its visible man inflicted flaws has reached for this type of dialogue forever. It is also a teaching based in scripture and with my highest language effort I convey:

Ecumenism is not a mere byproduct of this dialogue. This is an Ecumenical reach for Universal Truth.

Catholic Hat Tip to Wayne, Brad and Wm. Paul Young.


~Joseph the Worker said...

I'm going to have to read some Merton someday. Everyone seems to either really like him or be really suspicious of him.

The Catholic Journeyman said...

Yes...he has been labeled by some on the web as "mystic" which I cannot agree with (not that theres anything wrong with mystics) and that label has an unfortunate negative perception.

His Interfaith works are misunderstood as having Merton divided about his Faith, which is a falsehood as well.