Thomas Merton wrote: "I am glad to be marginal. The best thing I can do for the "world" is to stay out of it - in so far as one can." (A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals, K 5980-83)
Merton blended solitude and togetherness with people. Being with others can be challenging. Meaningful times in solitude are required to deepen our ability to love and be with others.
Being with ourselves is in ways more challenging than being with others. This is why many cover up their inner life with unceasing busyness. This is why Henri Nouwen referred to solitude as "the furnace of spiritual transformation."
Get alone with God. Be in community. Get alone with God. Be in community. Getting alone with God, habitually, makes us better when we are with others.
Few show us how to be alone with God. (Sherry Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation is brilliant on: be in solitude, be in conversation; be in solitude, be in conversation; and so, on and on.) We have not been taught how to be alone. Its value has not been demonstrated to us. Thus, we do not know how to be with others. American culture fails to train us for authentic community.
How shall we do life together. Both Merton and Nouwen believed that authentic community is a function of aloneness with God. True God-aloneness morphs the heart into a community shape. Authentic community shapes our solitary times with God. And so, on and on, back and forth, there comes a dialectical movement that strengthens both self and community.
I find it encouraging that Merton never watched TV. I cannot say the same. But next week will be a welcome media void, as Linda and I will be at our annual summer conference. Why not try, as an experiment, life without social media, if only for a day, or a week? Merton did it for a lifetime. People traveled from all over the world to sit with him, be with him, and hear from him. And, to watch him listen.
Wisdom is different than information. Many are informed, few are deep and wise. You cannot gain wisdom by googling it. It's a different type than could be captured in a tweet. One needs a lifetime of aloneness with God, followed by community, in the dialectical movement.
Merton was met by God as he met alone with God in stillness and in silence. This is the kind of Jesus-follower I need in my life; viz., someone who gains their soul by losing their cyberspace.
If this feels threatening, it's only because we are still trying to find our life and place in culture. We fear being left out, and unrecognized. These fears 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. This is a secure place.
This coming week I will spend much time in that secure, secret place, getting alone with God, and then being with others. I'll enter a private space, and then go public.
"All of humanity's problems stem from
man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
(Thank you B.A.)