Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Even Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day Had Doubts about their Directions

I've been finishing Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own, and I'm struck by the doubts that Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton had about the lives they were leading.  I've read the book before, so the information isn't new, but it's comforting to read it again.

When I first read the book, I was shocked to discover that Merton had a love affair late in his monastic life.  He went into the hospital for back surgery and fell in love with one of his nurses.  They wrote passionate letters, and because he had to return for physical therapy and check ups, they had the opportunity to see each other.

But physical love wasn't the only thing tugging Merton away from his monastic vows.  He wondered about nuclear weapons and the future of the world.  He wondered if being a monk and praying for the world was enough.  I take comfort from knowing that Merton wasn't sure.

And towards the end of his life, Merton was doing more networking with Buddhist monks.  If his life hadn't been cut short by his freak electrocution, what direction would he have gone?

Likewise, Dorothy Day seemed to have periods of doubts, but not about some of the issues we might have thought.  She remained fiercely committed to pacifism.  She was more doubtful about the communal living that she had set into motion.  She was shocked by the rude manners of some of the people who came for food and shelter--not the behavior of the truly poor but the behavior of the bohemians.

Here, too,  I take comfort from knowing the Day did what she could to create Christian community, but that she fell short of her goals.

If these spiritual giants weren't always sure that they lived the most authentic expression of Christianity possible, why should it be different for any of the rest of us? 

The best we can do is to always strive to make room for the Kingdom of God that Christ tells us is always trying to break through into our regular lives.  We can model Christian living--we have the ultimate example in Jesus.  We can suffer through periods of doubt, and if necessary, we can adjust our trajectory.  If we're lucky, we can be an inspiration, in all sorts of ways, to future generations.

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