Living fully

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton.

Before he entered the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Thomas Merton wrote several novels, only one of which survived, interestingly called My Argument with the Gestapo.

What struck me when I read it years ago is this quote:

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is. . . . I am all the time trying to make out the answer as I go on living. I live out the answer to my two questions myself and the answer may not be complete, even when my life is ended I may go on working out the answer for a long time after my death, but at least it will be resolved, and there will be no further question, for with God’s mercy, I shall possess not only the answer but the reality that the answer was about.”

What keeps me living fully?

Sometimes I’ve thought that I could live fully if only things would work out as I hope and dream, if only the things that give me concern will go away, if only a certain person would stop bothering me, if only…

I am slowly learning that often my fears, my worries, my lack of trust in the providence of God, my concern for what people think of me are what really keep me from living fully.

Reading Thomas Merton’s journals I sometimes felt that he felt that the abbot was keeping him from living fully, because he wouldn’t let Merton move to the Carthusians of Camaldolese. But I think he finally got over that – maybe during the time of his love affair, and recognized what really kept him from living fully.

For me, this question might make a good Lenten theme. I sure need to ask it.


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