The Truth of the Work Itself

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 11-16-16

I feel as if I am in this movie that switched plots in the middle and went from comedy to mayhem.  I want to leave but I can’t, and I can’t make the plot get back to what I want to see.

It feels as if we as a people must find the place between high emotion and indifference.  On the one hand the unfolding of the election has to play its way out, and we won’t know what it means until the unfolding is at least more clear if not complete. On the other, as citizens we are called to be concerned about the well-being of the Republic and have a civic duty to voice our concerns.

But the truth is we cannot make time go any faster, nor can we see the future with certainty before it comes.

So, two thoughts come to me from Thomas Merton.

First, in the midst of the 1960’s Merton wrote often about the wrongness of the Vietnam War and the injustice of limiting the rights of African Americans.  His friends begged him to leave his monastery and come protest in the South and in Washington, but he said he should stay in the monastery because, “There needs to be one sane person left.”

The second is a passage from a letter Merton wrote to a young man named James Forrest:

          “When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.  The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real.  In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths.  If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the invincible disappointments….” (in Thomas Merton: The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 294-297)

It’s not that we ignore what is going on in our country nor that we acquiesce to everything the President Elect decides.  This is not a call for passivity but for perspective. 

What is the truth that Christ is calling us to serve and how are we doing that by our thoughts and actions in this moment?  Are we demonstrating a counter balance to the unfairness, prejudice, bigotry, selfishness, and violence we see in our country by our daily actions and our thoughts/emotions?  To borrow from Gandhi, are we the change we hope to see in the world?

It’s a waste of time to rail against Donald Trump or any other loud voice in a loud voice.  It doesn’t mean we need to roll over, but it does mean as Christians we are called to show what The Way looks like by who we are and what we do. We do need to speak in the public square but speak in a way that always invites all of us to conversion.  God is still working God’s purpose out.

In this transition, let’s focus on serving Christ’s truth in how we act, in what we say, and in our confidence that God is still in control.   Let’s make sure that there is at least one sane person left.

During this space in which the future seems less clear than in the past, let us concentrate on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself  and remember that the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.