In the midst of the continuing machinations of the seemingly endless cycle of killing (that we call WAR) I find myself turning inward to find that quiet, contemplative space, particularly as I navigate the season of Lent. As I do so I know that there are countless people (who call themselves Christian) who are so swept up as cogs in the endless war machine that they don’t even pause to consider the blood on our hands and its implications (as Christians).
Early this morning I pulled my copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation off the shelf, dusted it off, and flipped to the dog-eared page of a favorite chapter.
Merton had (in his time) found that still, quiet place in which he could see
himself and the world with a remarkable clarity, and he articulated the human
condition with profound (and raw) sincerity. Here is the reflection from the
chapter titled, The Root of War Is Fear:
At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.
It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.
Merton understood those things that we are unable to face; fear, guilt, and every
other possible human shortcoming. He further understood that it is very much a
part of the human condition to ease those burdens on ourselves by passing them
on to others. He saw this being raised to a form of high art during the height of
the Cold War in the 1960’s when, as a society, the United States turned
Communism into the greatest enemy anyone could possibly imagine, and built up
the most fantastic machinery of war with which to fight it (and annihilate
ourselves in the process).
It is ironic that so many of those who claim Christianity as their own are the very
ones who helped build up the very weapons (during the Cold War) that could
cause the ultimate genocide, the very destruction of life on Earth. And, during
much of the past eight years the United States has, by the creation of a vast state
of fear and distrust, prosecuted an endless war on terror that has led to endless
human suffering, economic distress and (ironically) an increased risk of
terrorism both towards the U.S. and its allies.
And then there is Thomas Merton, the gentle monk who left behind a depth of
contemplative wisdom that, if we are honest enough to look within, could help us
(particularly those who claim Christianity in one form or another) out of the mess
we have created and down the road to peace. As Merton reminds us,
What is the use of postmarking our mail with exhortations to “pray for peace” and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls “mocking God” — and mocking Him far more effectively than the atheists do.
Later in this chapter, Merton elaborates on praying for peace:
When I pray for peace, I pray not only that the enemies of my country may cease to want war, but above all that my own country will cease to do the things that make war inevitable. In other words, when I pray for peace I am not just praying that the Russians will give up without a struggle and let us have our own way. I am praying that both we and the Russians may somehow be restored to sanity and learn how to work out our problems, as best we can, together, instead of preparing for global suicide.
Merton wrote these words during the Cold War, but they seem to apply just as
well to the post Cold War world as the United States keeps doing “the things that
make war inevitable.” What will it take for us to change course and turn away
from war, seeking real peace? Perhaps Merton’s final thoughts in this chapter
provide some clarity:
So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed — but hate these things in yourself, not in the other.
May each of us find that still place in contemplation where we can see both within
and without, and may peace begin within each of us.