Thomas Merton: A Flood Which Breaks The Dam


We tend, often, to transform anything good into an idol.

Our health, our work, our families.

Even, sometimes, our own words and beliefs.

Once that occurs, it becomes extraordinarily easy to close our hearts and our minds to the voices, if not the essence, of the other.

Now, that’s not that to say that our faith doesn’t call us to specific and, at times, demanding and rigorous, beliefs. The Nicene Creed, for example, could not be any clearer about what is to be confessed and lived out by and through us.

Yet how is it that, even within our own faith community, there are ruptures and open hostilities so divisive, so deadly, that we sometimes rival first world armies engaged in war on the battlefield – with massive causalities on both sides all but certain?

It may well be that we have grown so comfortable, or perhaps so weary, that we simply can no longer welcome – in fact, we feel compelled to resist – anyone who approaches us from an unexpected direction, or sounds even a bit different.

We perceive a direct challenge. We feel unquestionably denied and perhaps threatened.

But we must, sometimes, take a step back to examine our own hearts and to question our primary motivations.

Our faith challenges us to do no less.

So we need to continually ask ourselves:

Do I fully and fundamentally grasp what it is that I believe? And, if so, have I turned my beliefs into a weapon that keeps away, or defends against, those who may think or act differently?

We are called to love. To love without restraint. To love without question.

It’s that simple.

But that call to love requires perfection, does it not? And we are in no way perfect.

Yet we know that we are commanded be perfect as our Father is perfect. Without doubt, therefore, we will need His help if we are to take even that very first step forward.

So here’s the thing.

We need to be mindful, on a day-to-day basis, of just how we execute and live out our faith.

We may well need to first examine whether we have, as Thomas Merton once observed, erected words – that is, our very own world – into a dam, a great and impenetrable barrier to shut out the other, so determined are we to hold on to our dry ground at any price:

“The Word” [of God] is “a flood which breaks the dam.” This from a Babylonian source, but in Spirit of [the Old Testament] – and of Marxism for that matter. But basic. One senses this in our community to some extent. Uneasiness, anguish, dis-ease, because something is building up to break the dam and this “word” is inscrutably different from the comforting platitudes of Superiors. But this sense pervades all society – is resisted by those who erect their word in to a dam and are determined to “hold” it at any price – Learning to Love: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 6, November 27, 1966 (quoted by Gary Hull).

Merton’s observations are simple yet profound:

God’s word is as if a great flood which will, ultimately and inevitably, break the very dam that we have selfishly and consciously erected.

And that great flood will finally carry away all of our idols, all of our imperfections, all of our self-centeredness, and – we may dare to hope – all of our lovelessness.

Those flood waters may, in the end, be the very thing that saves us.


Image Credit: Pixabay

Copyright 2016-2017 (originally published May, 2016)

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