A Refusal To Love – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

by Mark Votava

thomasmerton1. Questioning and struggle

“We too often forget that Christian faith is a principle of questioning and struggle before it becomes a principle of certitude and of peace. One has to doubt and reject everything else in order to believe firmly in Christ, and after one has begun to believe, one’s faith must be tested and purified. Christianity is not merely a set of foregone conclusions. The Christian mind is a mind that risks intolerable purifications, and sometimes indeed very often, the risk turns out to be too great to be tolerated…”

2. Observe, listen, choose, and obey

“We must recover our inner faith not only in God but in the good, in reality, and in the power of the good to take care of itself and us as well, if only we attend to it, observe, listen, choose, and obey.”

3. Alienated by society

“Man is alienated by the society he lives in. He does not yet know what he will be when he becomes himself…”

4. There is a time to listen

“There is a time to listen, in the active life as everywhere else, and the better part of action is waiting, not knowing what next, and not having a glib answer.”

5. Creative possibilities

“If our time is in fact marked with the sign of suicide, the reason is that this ordinary human mode of life is consistently forgotten – so consistently that the mentality of our world may lay upon many people a burden of despair so great that they cannot meet even the ordinary exigencies of human existence, or muster up the common courage which is an essential component of life. But I think there remain creative possibilities for those who can recognize some other source of hope and understanding than that which is offered by society speaking through the mass media. One who can exchange the refusal to live for an intelligent and creative social dissent may perhaps discover ways of his own out of the general confusion. But in any case these ways will open themselves to him only as providential gifts.”  

6. Cooperating in the work of our own alienation

“Society alienates people while at the same time summoning them to cooperate in the work of their own alienation…”

7. God is present in the world

“We must recover the New Testament awareness that our God does not need a temple… or even a cathedral. The New Testament teaches in fact that God has one indestructible temple: which is man himself… To understand that God is present in the world in man is in fact no new or radical idea. It is, on the contrary, one of the most elementary teachings of the New Testament.”

8. A refusal to love

“A basic temptation: the flatly unchristian refusal to love those whom we consider, for some reason or other, unworthy of love. And, on top of that, to consider others unworthy of love for even very trivial reasons. Not that we hate them of course: but we just refuse to accept them in our hearts, to treat them without suspicion and deal with them without inner reservations. In a word, we reject those who do not please us. We are of course ‘charitable toward them.’ An interesting use of the word ‘charity’ to cover and to justify a certain coldness, suspicion, and even disdain. But this is punished by another inexorable refusal: we are bound by the logic of this defensive rejection to reject any form of happiness that even implies acceptance of those we have decided to reject. This certainly complicates life, and if one is sufficiently intolerant, it ends by making all happiness impossible.”

Have we refused to love others in life? What kind of effect does this have on our quality of life?

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