Reading the sixth of seven installments of the journals of Thomas Merton (American Cistercian monk, known for his writings, anti-war efforts and ambassador between Western and Eastern religion.) And while I’ve loved most of his works; he was a huge inspiration to me on my conversion to Christianity years ago, this one just stinks.
And it’s all because he fell in love with a woman.
Now, I’m not saying it’s bad he fell in love or that I necessarily condemn him for his choices, but rather that after 25 years of being a hermit in solitude the quality of his writing once he meets some pretty face that moves him goes in the tank.
Love, to him, is some grand movement of the spirit that is incapable of words, infinite in its scope and eradicates all other wants and concerns. Utter droll. I’m not cynical about love. I am in love, very much in love, and it truly is the greatest thing. But, in my opinion, taking love to the point where even the infinite and intangible fail to define it is merely the polar opposite of cynicism. Cynicism compensated for by buring itself under mountains of cheap platitudes.
Yeah, Merton goes cheap.
Love, as described by every poet and rhetorician since time began (save for cynical reductionists), is something essential to our nature as human beings. So why then should it be as difficult to hold as water? Love is very real; it is experienced long before we are even old enough to have a language to put it in. It is proto-language, it is endogynous to us.
Love is not a mystical expanse of infinity. It is something felt in the most physical and mundane of experiences. And there is nothing extra. I recall one vivid experience of having breakfast with my girlfriend and just being overwhelmed with this feeling of being in love as I watched her take an ordinary sip of orange juice. For a time I thought that feeling was due to some abstract extra that love added to the ordinary, but now I think it’s just the opposite. Love happened when all other abstactions fell apart and I merely saw her as herself–no grand, metaphysical extras; no ideations; no romantic poetry.
Love is not the presence of something new and grand in the world. A thing akin to love as we know it is generated ex nihilo from God. It is threaded into human nature and nature itself. The experience of “falling in love” is not discovering something new. Love is discovering how to forget about separation and division. I have a very deep animosity towards New Age thought, but there is a kernel of reason in their idea of bliss in being “one with everything.”