Today is Columbus Day – a day when many celebrate a man who got lost and thought he was in India. His “discovery” led to the death of millions of peoples in the “Americas” and to the beginning of an exploitation of the resources of an entire hemisphere.
But I wonder if the problem is that he “explored” and “exploited” to fill up an emptiness in the soul – not just his but the soul of an empire.
These thoughts led me to remember what Thomas Merton wrote in The Wisdom of the Desert:
“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.
“Proof: the great travelers and colonizers of the Renaissance were, for the most part, men who perhaps were capable of the things they did precisely because they were alienated from themselves. In subjugating primitive worlds, they only imposed on them, with the force of cannons, their own confusion and their own alienation.”
But this is not just something characteristic of the explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’ also points to the emptiness of our hearts as a factor in the consumerist culture:
The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality.
And so today is a day not to celebrate explorers but to explore in the depths of our hearts where God calls us to love and to embrace the Other, not to conquer or consume.