|Orthodox priest in Jerusalem|
Merton lived in a monastery, first in community, and then in a hermitage. He blended solitude and togetherness with people. Being with others can be challenging, so meaningful times in solitude are required to deepen our ability to love and be with others.
Note: being with our own selves is in ways more challenging than being with others. This is why so many people cover up their inner selves with unceasing busyness. This is why Henri Nouwen referred to solitude as "the furnace of spiritual transformation."
To be a solitary person today in Western culture is to live on the margins of society. No one talks about solitude or shows us how to be alone with ourselves and God, at least not in the media and popular culture. Because of this we are not taught how to do the hard thing of being together. Very little in American culture trains us for authentic community. We cannot avoid physical togetherness, and we're all on Facebook, but Bonhoefferian "life together" is rarely found in these places.
How shall we do life together? Merton and Nouwen believed that authentic community is a function of aloneness with God. True God-aloneness morphs our heart-abilities to be with others. Authentic being-with others shapes our solitary times, and so on and on, back and forth, being a dialectical movement that strengthens both self and community.
I find it encouraging that Merton never watched TV. This past week for me was TV-less and media-barren, as we were at our annual summer conference. So why not try life without it, if only for a day or a week? Merton did, yet people traveled from around the world to sit with him and be with him and hear from him. Wisdom is different than information. Few people today have it as Merton had it. Merton was met by God, in solitude and stillness and silence. This is the kind of Jesus-follower I need in my life. Merton found life in being marginal.
Beware of attracting the cultural spotlight. To be at the center of our culture is to be on the margins of God's Kingdom. To be at the center of God's Kingdom is to be culturally marginalized. It is to live a hidden life, an underground life. The Jesus Movement is an underground movement, a community of seeds growing secretly. The Jesus Movement is, as Eugene Peterson says, "subversive." It's yeast, influencing the lump of dough.
If the thought of living a culturally hidden life is threatening it's only because we are still trying to find our life and place in our culture. Our fear of being unrecognized, and our need to be recognized are signs of our attachment to our culture. These fears and needs reveal who we really belong to.
You and I belong to a God who loves us so much that any of this-world's acclaim is inglorious by comparison. It is a secure place. This week I will again spend much time in that secure, secret place, getting alone with God. I'll enter that non-public space and continue the deepening conversational relationship with God. I'll dwell in that culturally irrelevant place for the sake of being changed into the culture of his Kingdom.
Be marginal in order to get at the heart of things. It's the best thing we can do for this world.