And now for the second part of last week’s Merton Monday:
Yet we must not deal in too negative a fashion even with the “external self.” This self is not by nature evil, and the fact that it is unsubstantial is not to be imputed to it as some kind of crime. It is afflicted with metaphysical poverty: but all that is poor deserves mercy. So too our outward self: as long as it does not isolate itself in a lie, it is blessed by the mercy and the love of Christ. Appearances are to be accepted for what they are. The accidents of a poor and transient existence have, nevertheless, an ineffable value. They can be transparent media in which we apprehend the presence of God in the world. It is possible to speak of the exterior self as a mask: to do so is not necessarily to reprove it. The mask that each man wears may well be a disguise not only for that man’s inner self but for God, wondering as a pilgrim and exile in His own creation.— New Seeds, chapter 39
These words of Merton are very near the end of New Seeds, and although he goes on immediately to echo St. Benedict by making a statement about seeing Christ in every person, I chose to end the quote where I did. I find the last sentence in the above to be one of the most lovely statements I have ever read concerning Christian spirituality and doctrine, and quite ingenious for everything that is wrapped up, neat and tidy, within it. Seriously. It’s brilliantly insightful. I am also very much taken by the simplest of statements: all that is poor deserves mercy. I am not far from being willing to claim, at the moment, that these two statements could, on their own, comprise a wholly sufficient personal Christian faith.