Monday, January 15, 2007

Merton on peacemaking

      Will you end wars by asking men to trust men who evidently cannot be trusted? No. Teach them to love and trust God; then they will be able to love the men they cannot trust, and will dare to make peace with them, not trusting in them but in God.
      For only love - which means humility - can cast out the fear which is the root of all war.

      If men really wanted peace they would ask God and He would give it to them. But why should He give the world a peace which it does not really desire? For the peace the world seems to desire is really no peace at all.
      To some men peace means merely the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob one another without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.
      Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was "peace" and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war.
      So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.

- Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation (London: 1949), 72-73.

9 comments:

Jason Goroncy said...

Hope your time away was peaceful Byron. Nice enough Merton quote. I particularly liked the first paragraph. Albert Einstein once said that 'Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.' But the truth is that peace has been achieved by Jesus Christ through his work on the cross (Col. 1:20) ... and one day all humanity will see it together.

byron said...

Yes, the Merton quote is insufficiently christological - trust the Forysth scholar to point it out! :-)

Joanna said...

Oh boy!

Well, despite the lack of Christologicalness in the quote, it's pretty confronting... especially as at Church last night I did the prayer for the world, and it was mostly centred on pleading for peace... hmmmmmmm

The Miner said...

What a fantastic quote! And Joanna, I don't think Merton would tell us to stop praying for peace (he was pretty active on that front), but that we should pray for God's Shalom, for God's Kingdom to Come, rather than for our own ideas of what peace may or may not look like.

I don't think the quote is insufficiently christological. We don't need to be doing christology at all times of day or night. It is adequate at times to talk of the other persons of the trinity as they relate to the world.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The best collection of Merton's writings on peace is Faith and Violence.

Of course, I live in Merton country. The Abby of Gethsemane is less than an hour south of me and the Merton Papers are housed at Bellarmine University--about 10 minutes from my house.

Was there ever a monk who was so ENGAGED with the world as was Merton? The African-American Mennonite minister and historian, Vincent Harding, has an essay where he asks how Merton could so obviously FEEL the pain of black folks deep in his retreat? He gives no answer, just gratitude.

Benjamin Ady said...

can't I do both, rather than the one instead of the other? Yes, I hate the disorder in my own soul, and yes, I hate those who seem to me to be warmakers, or at least I hate what they are doing.

byron said...

Alric - of course not everything needs to be explicitly christological, though I guess my response to Jason's criticism reflects a broader concern with Merton (from my very limited reading of him - I'm halfway through Seeds of Contemplation and it's the first thing I've read by him) so far that his picture of God is often not particularly Trinitarian. Not that he denies it or that it is entirely absent, but some of his discussion of God not being able to be represented does seem to veer into christological deficiency. However, perhaps once again I'm merely enjoying being hypercritical.

byron said...

Michael - thanks for the recommendation. I'm quite new to Merton. Seeds of Contemplation is the first I've come across and I'm still halfway through.

Benjamin - it seems to me that Merton is warning us (echoing Jesus' command to love our enemies and Paul's reminder that our struggle is not against flesh and blood) that to hate those who make war means we stay part of the problem. I think you're right to suggest that the solution is to hate the warmaking, rather than the warmakers, that is, to hate the disorder in their soul as well as that in our own.

Benjamin Ady said...

Let us raise our glasses to hatred of soul-disorder (god, there's a mouthful.)