Thomas Merton’s classic book, The Seven Storey Mountain is a helpful commentary on how one can live a spiritual life despite pressures in the opposite direction. Merton knew how to live in the world without being swallowed up by the world. He has much to show us about the balance between solitude from and solidarity with our fellow humans. Perhaps more than any other writer, he teaches us the meaning of being “in the world” but “not of the world.” His words have been steeped in solitude and steeped in the tensions of making a living, finding his place in the world, and struggles with the sins that so easily entangle every one of us.
Gordon T. Smith quotes Merton in his book, The Voice of Jesus, and, in one of my recent blog posts, I looked briefly at one of his comments on suffering. Today, let’s go a little deeper with Thomas Merton. The following quote is certainly one that will challenge our understanding of the purpose of suffering and will encourage us to embrace, rather than reject, the pain we will all experience.
Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers the most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture.
– Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948
Do I embrace suffering or avoid suffering? How large or small are the items which torture me? Will I make the shift to embrace rather than deflect, avoid, or hate suffering? “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10).
Today, I will meditate upon these things. Selah.