Thomas Merton, The Cosmic Dance, And The November 2016 Elections


We certainly are a serious people.

And, as is typical by now, most of us here in the United States have squared off in opposing camps for the up-coming 2016 Presidential election. These two camps, however, seem much further apart, and feel somehow much more dangerous than normal, don’t they?

Unless you are an atypical voter, or are perhaps genuinely uninterested, you now likely either believe, deep in your soul, that “he’s completely nuts” or that “she’s a national security risk and should be locked up.” Any middle ground has long since been swallowed up.

Look, I get it.

I hold very sharp and, for the most part, unequivocal political positions and have for as long as I can remember, going back to about age 10 – yes, I was a nerd early on. And my one foray into the political arena in 1998 brought all things political into that much sharper focus for me.

In every Presidential election since I started voting in 1980 – full disclosure: for Ronald Reagan – political commentators have incited voters by swearing that this election is the most critical and the most consequential one of our lifetimes.

Well, there may be a great deal of truth to that this time around. I, for one, have very definite opinions about what should and what must not be allowed to happen this coming November.

But what if all of our anxieties, all of our perceived grievances, all of the terrible smashing of radio and TV talking heads and political consultants in the end amounts to nothing more than so much noise? What if, in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter who is elected?

Why, that’s some ignorant and dangerous political heresy that I’m espousing right there, no?

Well, yes and no.

Imagine, for a moment, that there’s an extraordinary place to which we have been invited – say, some grand, life-changing, awe-inspiring, wonderful, maybe even slightly mysterious place – but, because of our own trivial, day-to-day obsessions, our perceived slights, our closed hearts and minds, our unmitigated egos, we’ve failed to open or to even notice the invitation.

Or worse yet, we’ve declined to go.

What if this wondrous place is exactly where our hearts and our heads were meant to be, a place where our souls could be refreshed daily, and our lives imbued forever with a deeper meaning?

There is such a place.

And it’s where we dance.

But, first, let me take a step back.

There are many theological and philosophical questions about the meaning of life that I am just not any more qualified than you are to answer.

So I won’t try.

But I do understand one thing: our earthly obsessions are slowly killing us. And they are completely diverting our attention away from the very things that we were created to enjoy and become a part of.

Thomas Merton* can guide us through the rest of this:

What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously.

At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.

We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing.

When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Bashō we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

Here’s the thing:

We need to step away, we need to unplug, and we need to find a way to empty ourselves of ego.

Look around, be still, listen, pray, refresh, and reconnect.

And only then can we start exploring that great eternal portrait that was painted exclusively for each and every one of us. You’ll no doubt find yours hanging somewhere along a wall at that great dance – the extraordinary cosmic dance to which you and I are continually invited.

So check your mail for the next invitation.

I hope to see you there.


Image Credit: Pixabay

* While this passage is found in Merton’s Book, New Seeds of Contemplation, I first came across it in James Finley’s marvelous lecture series entitled, Thomas Merton’s Path To The Palace Of NowhereFinley studied with Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani for six years.

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