I have walked with Oswald Chambers, via My Utmost for His Highest, since 1977, the year I purchased my now-tattered copy of that iconic work. My exploration of Thomas Merton, the pacifist monk, coincided with my move to this mountaintop, and I confess that I am addicted to his devotionals.
Today’s piece, from A Year with Thomas Merton, is so spot on. (There’s a reason this book is my most dog-eared.) It’s entitled, Needing to Turn a Corner. It starts with this line.
“The realization that I need to turn a corner, to slough off a skin.”
Exactly. My skin gets thicker every day. I barrel through my tasks, inundated (despite intentionally limiting my exposure) by global negativity or Godlessness, and focused on my life, my people, my world—much like my protagonist, middle-aged archaeologist Grace Madison. It’s not that we’re neglecting responsibilities or doing bad things. We’re just busy with our environments as our skin thickens, comfortably distanced from the need for compassion to move beyond what surrounds us.
Merton goes on to say this.
“Certainly I can write something. But not to preach, not to dogmatize, not to be a pseudo-profit, not to declare my opinions. And yet it is essential to take a moral stand on some point.”
That’s where the fiction comes into play for me. I write about characters engaging with issues that are dear to me, like potable/clean water and war, and who are committed to a Christian worldview. By writing fiction, I try to create my own context within the realities of our world.
Merton concludes with these words, which resonate with Mahatma Ghandi’s non-violent resistance. (BTW, I realize that war can be necessary, so hold your fire.)
“What is required of some of us, and chiefly of me, is a solitary and personal response in the form of non-acquiescence, but quiet, definite, and pure.”
Of course, Merton cites the totally individual nature of his response, as well as the need for his action to reflect his beliefs alone. But to do that, a person has to know what he or she believes, and why. And that knowledge inherently tethers an individual to a community because beliefs are refined by others, and we exist in communities every day. (The exception is to become a hermit, which sometimes sounds like a viable option, right?)
Do you know what you believe? Has your skin become too thick? Does your life offer moments of quiet and solitude in which to explore your heart and soul?