Friday, March 30, 2007

Even Thomas Merton didn't do it alone

You know -- Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk who stirred so many people with his inspiring works -- like The Seven Story Mountain -- that detailed his efforts to encounter God, most famously in solitude and contemplation. But, despite the great productivity Merton had in that solitude, his superiors never let him spend all his time alone; they insisted he still join the community of monks he lived in for meals.

I thought of Merton, today, while discussing with some folks (at an institute for training chaplaincy supervisors) the spiritual gifts that I have found in my own moments of solitude. These folks reminded me, however, how important it is to ground these experiences of solitude with experiences of community. They told me, you can't really engage community without moments with only your self. And you can't really engage yourself without moments with community. That made me think of Merton. . . . And then of what I had written just the other day about the definition of spirituality. I made the case that -- in contrast to what many seem to think these days -- there is no spirituality that is only individual.

So, I ask you folks who might be trying to have a purely individual spirituality (that has no grounding in a community) -- if even such a great genius of spirituality in solitude as Thomas Merton couldn't do it alone, why do you think you can?

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