Thomas Merton: Before We Can Become Gods We Must Be Men

I took up running a couple of years back.  My attitude toward running prior to this was, quite simply:  “If monsters are chasing me then I’ll run.”  But a couple of years ago I came to the realization that there are some pretty fast monsters out there, and so I had better start training or else I could very well end up as monster food.

I love to run because it gets me into the outside world.  There my experience of life and of the world is not mediated by a climate-controlled building or the windshield of my car.  For so many people, their experience of the outside world–the heat of summer or the cold of winter or the time in between–is limited to the time they are going from their house to their car or their car to their office or vice versa.

As a society, we have made the choice to throw ourselves upon the mercy of technology.  The technological advances of the past few centuries have made our lives much easier in many respects, but I believe that they have made us less human because they have cut us off from the world and from life.  Who needs to be mindful of the rhythms of day and night when we have lights by which to see at all hours of the night?  Who needs to be mindful of the rhythms of summer, fall, winter, spring when we live, work, and play in climate-controlled buildings and get to wherever we are going in climate-controlled vehicles?  Who needs to be mindful of the vast distance between one side of our country and the other when you can hop a plane and get from one side to the other in only a few hours?

But is this the life we were created for?  Somehow I have a hard time believing that it is.  I need to be in touch with the world, to know the streets of the city because I have felt them pounding beneath my feet, to know that it is summer, fall, winter, or spring because I have seen it and felt it on my skin.

In short, I run to feel human.  I run to be human.

Thomas Merton echoes more or less the same sentiment in the quote which I am about to share with you.  This quote is taken from Seasons of Celebration.

Merton laments the rise of a technology-based society, and its potential to cut us off from the rhythms of the natural world, of day and night and of the seasons.  He laments the fact that modern life is no longer aware of these seasonal cycles and patterns but is instead “a linear flight into nothingness”.  In order to progress in our spiritual development, the first thing that must happen is that we must recover our connection with the world through our connection with the cycles and patterns of nature.  In short, “before we can become gods we must first be men.”

The modern pagan, the child of technology or the “mass man,” does not even enjoy the anguish of dualism or the comfort of myth. His anxieties are no longer born of eternal aspiration, though they are certainly rooted in a consciousness of death. “Mass man” is something more than fallen. He lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. No longer in contact with the created world or with himself, out of touch with the reality of nature, he lives in the world of collective obsessions, the world of systems and fictions with which modern man has surrounded himself. In such a world, man’s life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It’s a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose and without objective, except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality….

To live in Christ we must first break away from this linear flight into nothingness and recover the rhythm and order of man’s real nature. Before we can become gods we must first be men. For man in Christ, the cycle of the seasons is something entirely new. It has become a cycle of salvation. The year is not just another year, it is the year of the Lord—a year in which the passage of time itself brings us not only the natural renewal of spring and the fruitfulness of an earthly summer, but also the spiritual and interior fruitfulness of grace. The life of the flesh which ebbs and flows like the seasons and tends always to its last decline is elevated and supplanted by a life of the spirit which knows no decrease, which always grows in those who live with Christ in the liturgical year. “For though the outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. . . . For we know if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven.” (II Cor. 4:16; 5:1)

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One thought on “Thomas Merton: Before We Can Become Gods We Must Be Men

  1. Pingback: Tolkien, Williams, and Opposite Views of the City | Life in Mordor

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