Merton and me

Last night I attended a talk given by Walt Chura, SFO at Mount Irenaeus. Walt’s topic was the “Transformations of Thomas Merton.” Walt talked about the similarities between the transformations of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton and helped me to more clearly see each man and their journey to God and my own journey too. Both Merton and Francis were profligate sinners. They knew excess and it is or was their excess that eventually drew them close to God.

I was thinking as I ran this morning and contemplating what it means to me and it occurred to me that it’s possible to know God without theology. In fact theology might actually come between us and God. In the west and particularly in Western Christianity we are totally absorbed in describing God and what God is and isn’t. It’s that obsession with description that actually stands in the way of our knowing God. In twelve step programs, old timers frequently say that if you can describe the higher power, you’ve just lost him or her. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then theology or theologies could actually be standing in the way of knowing God or following God. I think both Merton and Francis knew this. I was thinking too of the popular Christian view of a sin centered universe and how that shapes Western Civilization. The less popular theology is of Duns Scotus and the Theology of the Incarnation that says that Christ came not to save the world from its sins but to show how much God loved the world.

If you tell that to your average American Christian you’ll be in for the fight of your life, but it makes sense to me. I read a book a few years ago by an Irish theologian who said that spirituality had been around for 10,000 years and that religion for only the last four or five thousand of those years. Karl Rahner once said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” The Buddhists speak of the various paths of truth as being fingers pointing to the moon. Drawing from all of this and Walt’s talk last night I believe its possible to get so caught up in the fingers as to miss the moon. Its possible that a profligate life is really the path of the true seeker and that it’s not a sin centered universe but a sartori centered universe in which each man and women is moving slowly, very slowly towards enlightenment which Christians in the west would call redemption.