Thursday, November 30, 2006

Avoiding the rusty hinge

I find myself in Kentucky for a few days -- the first time in many, many years -- as a guest of Berea College.

Once, when I was an undergraduate myself, and under the sway of Thomas Merton's autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, I hitchhiked from northern Indiana along rural two-lane blacktops on a cold, rainy day to the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, arriving late at night. There was a bell to be rung, waking, I suppose, Brother Gatekeeper from his few hours of sleep. I was admitted with surprising graciousness, given the ungodly hour, and began a visit of several days in the company of Merton and his confreres.

The monastery was the center of the monks' world. Or rather, the center of their world was at a place deep within each of them. Merton wrote a lot about centers. Our griefs, he said, lay at the hands of men armed with science and technology but without a rootedness in a mystery deeper than themselves. "Shamans without belief," he called them.

He wrote: "The way to find the real 'world' is not merely to measure and observe what is outside us, but to discover our own inner ground. For that is where the world is, first of all: in my deepest self. This 'ground,' this 'world' where I am mysteriously present at once to my own self and to the freedoms of all other men, is not a visible, objective and determined structure with fixed laws and demands. It is a living and self-creating mystery of which I am myself a part, to which I am myself my own unique door."

A friend of mine, who shared with me this quote of Merton's, suggests that our task in life is to keep applying WD40 to the hinges of our doors.