We are taking a brief, two-day pause from our reflections on YELLAWE and re-inventing education. This reflection on education’s failures to teach values is based on a so-called value-free ideology that hangs around from a discredited physics that still imagines “objectivity.” It is part of a tired modern consciousness that elevates rationality at the expense of intuition and that results in climate change emergencies and a dumbed-down political landscape.
Why interrupt this meditation?
Because this is a special day: It is the death day (many will say the day of martyrdom and I am among them) of Thomas Merton. It is also the day he entered the monastery 28 years earlier. Therefore, in many ways a holy day.
Today and tomorrow we will offer just a few thoughts from Merton regarding ecology. Another time we will give him more space and opportunities to rattle our souls.
In a move very telling about Merton’s spiritual instincts and his cultural alertness, he responded in his journal in late 1962 to ecological prophet Rachel Carson very soon after reading her now classic wake-up call about the environment, Silent Spring. He wrote:
I have been shocked at a notice of a new book, by Rachel Carson, on what is happening to birds as a result of the indiscriminate use of poisons (which do not manage to kill all the insects they intend to kill). Some will say: you worry about birds: why not worry about people?
I worry about both birds and people. We are in the world and part of it and we are destroying everything because we are destroying ourselves, spiritually, morally and in every way.
It is all part of the same sickness, and it all hangs together.
This is veritable Creation Spirituality. To worry both about non-two-legged creation (birds) and about the two-legged ones. He also notices that the cause of this destruction of creation around us is to be found in our self-destruction, “spiritually, morally and in every way.”
On January 12, 1963, Merton was moved to write a two-page letter to Rachel Carson. The immediate response to her book had been fiercely negative from many scientists, corporations, media moguls, and others. One commentator wrote:
Carson’s writing and scientific career seemed to be at an end. Targeted in a vicious and financially underwritten campaign to discredit her scientific integrity, Carson was vilified as a ‘hysterical female,’ a ‘pseudo-scientist,’ ‘probably a communist,’ a ‘bird and bunny lover,’ and a charlatan researcher.
In his letter Merton thanks Carson for her awareness of the “interdependence” of all things; he tells her that from now on DDT will not be employed at the monastery; and he elaborates on the “sickness” that he felt lies behind ecological denial (and today, climate denial): “I would almost dare to say that the sickness is perhaps a very real and very dreadful hatred of life.”
Adapted from: Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 118f.
Banner image: Liberation of the world’s smallest falcon after medical treatment, Montescaglioso (MT), Italy. Photo by Giovanni Calia on Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
Do you agree with Merton that a “sickness” lies behind the exploitation of the planet and that sickness is in fact a “very dreadful hatred of life”? This would seem to echo Adrienne Rich’s teaching that patriarchy brings with it a “fatalistic self-hatred.” How can we deconstruct such a world view?
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.