Monday, December 24, 2007

"His place is with those others for whom there is no room." Merton does it again

St. Mary's House Chaplain, my friend and colleague the Rev. Kevin Matthews, began his Christmas sermon with the words below from the writings of Thomas Merton. I just poked around and found them on the Web, quoted by various preachers in various places, but I don't know the source yet (i.e. from which book or essay they are taken). Neither did Kevin, who found the quote among some notes he had. [P.S. Late Dec. 25 . I found the reference. It's from Merton's Raids on the Unspeakable.] He's sending me a copy of his sermon, but meanwhile, the heart of the matter, from our favorite monk.

The line breaks are mine, for better reading and hearing.

Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room for him
at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,

and yet he must be in it,
his place is with those others
for whom there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power
because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured,
excommunicated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.

4 comments:

Mr. Natural said...

To call this place a "demented inn" is perfect truth.

We are renters here, sojourners for a few nights in the great scheme we cannot know and in which we play no real part.

We are trapped in a hive like bees, each in his or her own cell, a gigantic seeming-prison, panopticon where God can see us.

But he is not the jailer and this is not prison. It is the place were we are a paradox: alone together, voices and thoughts that can melt the aloneness in which too many of us live and in which we all one day will die.

A demented inn.

Sane people do not control it. Alexander King, the writer who died many years ago, said there is not a sane man in power in the world. He probably was right. The same extends now to women. Anyone who wants power, who craves it like alcohol or drugs, has made a prima facie case for being unable to handle it.

A demented inn.

We survive it by being present to ourselves through others and through ourselves.

Joyeux Noel, gang, in spite of all. Or perhaps because of it.

Jane R said...

Yet this quote is not primarily about us. It is about God and Christ, or rather about God-and-us or God-with-us.

The central truth is not that we live in a demented inn --that is part of the truth-- but that God lives there too and thus, as a blog I just discovered (Adventus) says at the top of its home page, "The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

So surviving may not even be the point, though life abundant is.

But this is not the day for theological argumentation. It is the day for stories, as Mimi has reminded us in the wonderful quote from "Brideshead Revisited." (Remember the quote from the PBS series too?)

A joyous Christmas!

Mr. Natural said...

A lovely idea. When I was preparing for baptism early in 1998, the Monsignor told me many converts-to-be stumbled over the Virgin birth. I had no problem, I said, because if it wasn't true, then it ought to be true. Almost ten years later I still believe that.

I wish I could remember the PBS series. I watched it, loved it, forgot it. If I could squeeze out all the crappy rock-and-roll in my head, I might have room for something worthwhile.

I was not commenting on Merton as theologian. I don't care about that. I care about what I read as it applies to me on a night when I just got back from a bullshit dinner with a collection of self-satisfied people: the same group, Jane, I saw at Thanksgiving. I had to do an instant assessment of what I experienced over the last two years (oh, did I tell you I am going back to NYC in a week to rejoin the plutocracy at Morgan Stanley?). Somehow every move of my life is being reported back (ha): the insane asylum, the prison, the food market, the phone company and the drugstore. One of the people there last night is a recently hired corporate executive at WalMart, a store that far more than Starbucks summarizes for me the world as a dark Satanic mill. I made some slighting comment about my previous occupations, then corrected myself: "No, it was useful if not remunerative. I spent a year getting educated to being a box store employee and I'll never make any assumptions about how that world works ever again." That sort of damped the conversation, y'might say.

I know what the quote was about. I chose to read it as it affected me. I am free, thank God, of having to be theologically correct.

And believe me...more than once in the last two years God has been the precise bastard of my worst imaginings. Arrigo Boito, Verdi's librettist for Otello, put into the mouth of Iago one of the most frightening sentiments I've ever heard, a savage parody of the Creed: "Credo in un Dio crudel, che m'ha creato, e che nell'ira io nomo!" I believe in a cruel God who created me and who in wrath I name!

And yet there is also the God who restores, who gives good in exchange for good, who gives good even to turn the sinner...just because. That is the God who visited me this week. God and us, if you like, or more to the point God and me. So I am caught in the odd position of being humbled by such a grace and feeling at the same time that I deserve my ticket-of-leave after years of doing time in that demented inn.

And let us remember today that this is the birthday of a homeless guy, and that his is the day to remember the poisoned and damaged.

Jane R said...

Amen and thanks.

Yes, you mentioned you were rejoining the plutocracy, though you were waiting to hear about the background check. Are you all seet? And I agree with you about Wal-Mart. Note: remind me to tell you off-blog about a fun encounter during my travels -- it had its genesis, at least in the immediate past, at Starbucks. The older genesis is 20, 30 years old, friends of friends from school etc.

I am on writing retreat for a while beginning today and will be scarce on-line (both on and off blog) but will stick to my promise on blog about the daily Latin American quote and reminder about the Christmas appeal for Luiz's community in Brazil.

When s**t happens I don't tend to think it's from a, or the, cruel God. More like the fault of either humans or social systems or random evil. Yes, I have enough leftover French existentialist that I do think there is such a thing as random evil. More to the point, I have long sinced trying to explain why there is evil and suffering. I do believe in the doctrines about sin (the doctrine of sin is, as some religious wag said, the only empirically verifiable one) but that doesn't mean I have the "why" explanation for all the awfulness. I prefer to stick to the what and the how. And to lament when there is awfulness. Which is in itself a form of resistance.