Questions Are Not Asked – 5 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Contemplation in a World of Action

by Mark Votava

51Xo2PA2R+L._SL500_AA300_1. A “desert” of questioning and paradox

“Are our efforts to be more ‘communal’ and to be more of a ‘family’ really genuine or are they only new ways to be intolerant of the solitude and integrity of the individual person? Are we simply trying to submerge and absorb him and keep him from finding an identity that might express itself in dissent and in a desire for greater solitude? Are we simply trying to guard against his entering a ‘desert’ of questioning and paradox that will disturb our own complacencies?

2. Unidentified cogs in a huge impersonal machine

“Let us not forget that modern man, or modern woman, at least in the ‘advanced countries,’ is desperately concerned with the problem of giving meaning to a life that is so easily reduced to mere empty routine by the alienating pressures of commercial and technological organization. We are often very keenly aware of the danger of becoming mere ‘mass men,’ frustrated, unidentified cogs in a huge impersonal machine.”  

3. A complex of responsibilities and options

“That I should have been born in 1915, that I should be the contemporary of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Viet Nam and the Watts riots are things about which I was not first consulted. Yet they are also events in which, whether I like it or not, I am deeply and personally involved. The ‘world’ is not just a physical space traversed by jet planes and full of people running in all directions. It is a complex of responsibilities and options made out of the loves, the hates, the fears, the joys, the hopes, the greed, the cruelty, the kindness, the faith, the trust, the suspicion of all. In the last analysis, if there is war because nobody trusts anybody, this is in part because I myself am defensive, suspicious, untrusting, and intent on making other people conform themselves to my particular brand of death wish.”

4. Maturation and self-discovery

“Sometimes it may be very useful for us to discover new and unfamiliar ways in which the human task of maturation and self-discovery is defined…”

5. Take refuge in an area where questions are not asked

“To choose a value that is questioned and doubted is to place oneself in the position of being doubted. The mature person is able to assume this risk. He can embrace an unpopular idea, commit himself to it and to its consequences, and accept the fact that it means becoming a problem and even in some way a ‘scandal’ to others. It is in this way that most people today have to establish and affirm their identity. But it takes courage to do this. Hence all values are questioned, or can be; to embrace any of them is to become an object of questioning and doubt. Those who shrink from personal responsibility shrink from this also. They seek to rest on an infallible authority or else take refuge in an area where questions are not asked.”

Are we afraid to assume the risk of questioning?

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