Sprouting and blooming – some thoughts on Thomas Merton

e7881216984a7402ae7a60713960607eToday we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth.

Many years ago, when I first returned to church, I – like many others – read his landmark work, The Seven Storey Mountain.  This book moved me in many ways, including to being the catalyst to get me out of my “God’s-only-up-there” piety and into a faith where my feet were firmly planted on the ground.

There are many gifts that God has given to me through Merton and his work, but today, I am grateful that it was the beginnings of a more integrated life of faith that the book shaped in me. And trust me, that seed was planted in 1990, but has taken many years to start to sprout, and even more years to bloom.

And with feet on the ground, those seeds are still sprouting, still blooming.
Thomas Merton, pray for us!


Lent, Masks, And Who We Truly Are – More About The Dignity of the Human Person

“If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities – “selves,” that is to say, regarded as objects” – Thomas Merton 

 Carnival has begun. In this tradition, masks are donned for a period of time, typically before Lent. The whole thing culminates on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, when the last burst of over-indulgence is expressed just as Lent starts on Ash Wednesday.

I remember being in New Orleans a number of years ago (not for Mardi Gras) and learning that the “success” of the Mardi Gras celebration was measured by how much garbage was collected. I’m not sure if that is true or apocryphal, but what a metaphor for the hours before Lent begins!

In any case, I read the words shown above this morning and was struck by what they say about human dignity.  The dignity of the human person is unsustainable unless we choose to cooperate with grace and to be the very people that God loved into being.

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Pffffft…. Yes it does. Doing so, living it? Hmmmm…. not so much, I’m afraid.

When I read the history of Venetian Carnavale at this link, I was reminded of the 
etymology of the word carnival and its meaning of “farewell to meat.”

Lent is a time when we say “farewell to meat” or at least for part of the time. Lent is a time of stripping away, taking off the masks of our daily lives, not to mention the carnival masks. We all wear masks, whether we realize it or not. Being who we truly are is not a task for faint hearts.

And there is the rub… being who we are in Christ means being who we are. No – who we truly are. (**shudders**) What a messy business that is. If I am who I like to be, then I am a classic overachiever, an over-do-er and all around I-can-handle-it-all type. Oh sure, I say all the right words and I even think that I believe them a good deal of the time, that it is God in me doing the work. I’m just cooperating.


I’m considering what my mask – let me rephrase that – what my masks are. It makes me highly uncomfortable. What makes me more uncomfortable is the removal of those masks.

The stripping away. The letting go. The saying farewell to meat, both practically as well as spiritually.

We embed ourselves into our masks and objectification is the end result. I am who my mask says I am… Anyone who has read this blog at all knows that I loathe, rant and rave about labels. The whole, “I am choose one” notion of I am a (fill in the blank), Republican/Democrat/Liberal/Progressive/Conservative/Orthodox/ProLife/ProChoice/Vegetarian/Meatatarian/Libertarian/TeaPartier/Fundamentalist/Traditionalist/Revolutionary… 

This causes me particular angst when I read about how those of us who are Catholic divide ourselves up along these lines. It makes my head spin. That is why I want to eschew all labels except for that particular one.

Yet that too can become a mask of sorts if I do not really live as God asks me to.

Too many masks makes for objectification. Objectification makes for dehumanization. There is no dignity in that.

These are some thoughts on my mind as we approach Lent. I guess that is what I might give up this year… if I can.

My mask.
(this post might get revised… just wanted to put it out there for now.)