Individualism, Comfort, Security – 12 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

by Mark Votava

download (16)1. We have to get money and keep spending it

“So we have to get money and keep spending it in order to be known, recognized as human. Otherwise we are excommunicated.”

2. A creative consent

“God demands of us a creative consent, in our deepest and most hidden self, the self we do not experience every day, and perhaps never experience, though it is always there. This creative consent is the obedience of my whole being to the will of God, here and now.”

3. Our attitude toward death

“…our attitude toward death is in reality a reflection of our attitude toward ourself and toward our life. He who truly loves life and lives it, is able to accept death without sorrow.”

4. Problems that should never arise

“So we create problems that should never arise, simply because we ‘believe’ with our mind, but heart and body do not follow. Or else the heart and the emotions drive on in some direction of their own, with the mind in total confusion. The damnable abstractedness of the ‘spiritual life’ in this sense is ruining people…”

5. More than the satisfaction of hunger, sex, and so on

“Are there values which man desires more than the satisfaction of hunger, sex, and so on? I certainly think so. Chief of these is the need for meaning…”

6. A little circle of abstract, petty concerns

“Beware of the temptation to refuse love, to reject love, for ostensibly ‘spiritual motives.’ Consider the awful sterility of those who, claiming to love God, have in reality dispensed themselves from all obligations to love anyone, and have remained inert and stunted in a little circle of abstract, petty concerns involving themselves and a few others as sterile as themselves!”

7. At the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness

“If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we become content? We would no longer need their new product.”

8. To love freely

“…the Law of Love is the deepest law of our nature, not something extraneous and alien to our nature. Our nature itself inclines us to love, and to love freely.”

9. A living and life-giving aspiration

“One believes because one is told to believe, not because of a living and life-giving aspiration to know the living God…”

10. Individualism, comfort, security

“This is the final exaltation of our culture: individualism, comfort, security, and to hell with everybody else.”

11. Unity within myself

“If I do not have unity in myself, how can I even think, let alone speak, of unity among Christians? Yet, of course, in seeking unity for all Christians, I also attain unity within myself.”

12. Inauthentic efforts to be real in the eyes of others

“We are all too ready to believe that the self that we have created out of our more or less inauthentic efforts to be real in the eyes of others is a ‘real self.’ We even take it for our identity. Fidelity to such a nonidentity is of course infidelity to our real person, which is hidden in mystery. Who will you find that has enough faith and self-respect to attend to this mystery and to begin by accepting himself as unknown? God help the man who thinks he knows all about himself.”

How can we escape individualism, comfort, and security?

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist