This is how Thomas Merton describes the “unceasing divisions” among people in Seeds of Contemplation. If you have the book, chapter five is worth contemplating. I found it a startling take on the notion of dialogue we’ve seen recently in Gaudium et Spes.
Merton suggests that the love of Christ is a love that will endure the “resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.”
He suggests there are two paths to take in dealing with other human beings: we can love them or hate them. He writes:
Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion. It identifies the agony with (others) whose presence causes agony in us by reminding us of our disunion.
Hatred tries to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by the elimination of everybody else but ourselves.
But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.
How is this a “seed” of contemplation? Merton teaches that contemplation as an escape from this suffering is empty. I was struck with these reflections in light of the notion of dialogue. True dialogue would appear to be the opposite of a “caving in” to another’s differences. True dialogue implies pain. True dialogue implies a two-sided experience of pain. Why is the pain significant? It should be obvious this Lent: it is a union with the passion of Christ. St Paul advised:
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)
Is this kenosis, this emptying, a “caving in?” I think we realize the answer. In entering into a dialogue, especially a difficult one, do we bring the openness to pain? I’m assuming Merton means more than just the pain of embarassment or being unable to express ourselves well. Dialogue implies that we will reveal more than just mere words. Gaudium et Spes 23 reminds us that a more perfect dialogue rests in the area of interpersonal relationships. Such relationships imply more than a heartfelt sharing of ideas. They imply an appropriate, yet revelatory sharing of our joys, our hopes, our griefs and our anxieties. Remember that opening statement from Gaudium et Spes?
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the (people) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of (people). United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every (person). That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with (humankind) and its history by the deepest of bonds.
If the Church teaches that the Body is intimately and deeply linked with the whole human community, how can we not embrace those links on the level of personal relationship? It seems we are charged with seeking out those personal connections, even if they seem dry or useless in light of our own agenda. How will we know we have found them? Merton implies we will know pain as a result of it.
Merton also cautions his readers about the direct escape from the world and hiding in solitude. We will bring the very thing we sought to escape with us into the wilderness. But it is possible, he says, to “be entirely out of the world while remaining in the midst of it, if you let God set you free from your own selfishness and if you live for love alone.”