Thomas Merton’s book on Ishi: A Meditation begins with the following stark words:
Genocide is a new word. Perhaps the word is new because technology has now got into the game of destroying whole races at once. The destruction of races is not new—just easier.
Ishi was the last survivor of the Mill Creek (Yahi) Indians who were hunted in California for fifty years and Merton is responding to a recent study by Theodora Kroeber, Ishi In Two Worlds: A biography of the last wild Indian in North America published in 1964. He celebrates
…the courage, the resourcefulness, and the sheer nobility of these few stone age men struggling to preserve their life, their autonomy and their identity as a people.
He compares the “hidden life” of this tribe, now reduced to twenty people who learned to live “invisible and as unknown” for twelve years undetected until only Ishi remained with his sister and sick mother. When they died, Ishi surrendered to the white race on August 29, 1911. Fortunately, an anthropologist at UC Berkeley took him in and treated him well for the remaining four and a half years of his life.
Merton did not hesitate to relate the Ishi story to the goings-on in the Vietnam War in his day. He compares the Vietnam War to the Indian wars of a hundred years ago.
Viet Nam seems to have become an extension of our old western frontier, complete with enemies of another ‘inferior’ race….What a pity that so many innocent people have to pay with their lives for our obsessive fantasies.
[Consider] the spectacle of our own country with its incomparable technological power, its unequalled material strength, and its psychic turmoil, its moral confusion and its profound heritage of guilt which neither the righteous declarations of Cardinals nor the moral indifference of ‘realists’ can do anything to change! Every bomb we drop on a defenseless Asian village, every Asian child we disfigure or destroy with fire, only adds to the moral strength of those we wish to destroy for our own profit.
In an essay on “The Sacred City,” no doubt a response to Harvey Cox’s “The Secular City” which was in vogue in Merton’s day, Merton speaks of the new archaeological findings taking place in the Oaxaca Valley and concludes that “three things” stand out in comparison to our urban world today:
The indifference to technological progress, the lack of history, and the almost total neglect of the arts of war.
This provides an “entirely different conception of man and of life” which can be characterized as
…a network of living interrelationships….In plain and colloquial terms it is a difference between a peaceful, timeless life lived in the stability of a continually renewed present, and a dynamic, aggressive life aimed at the future.*
Thus we see in Merton’s book on Ishi that he is not romanticizing the indigenous history but is drawing valuable lessons from it for our own time and for our own examination of consciences.
* Thomas Merton, Ishi Means Man (Greensboro, N.C.: Unicorn Press, 1968), pp. 25f, 28, 32, 30, 63.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: The Creation Spirituality Journey of Thomas Merton, pp. 198f.
Banner Image: “Marching: About 10,000 people marched from Queen’s Park to Nathan Philips Square, Toronto, demanding action on the 215 children found in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School in B.C.” Thus far 1505 children’s bodies have been found at seven schools. Between Canada and the U.S., 497 schools remain to be searched. Photo by Michael_Swan on Flickr.
Do you see parallels between what we are learning about indigenous suffering in the unveiling of boarding school casualties today and the warnings from Merton?
A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey
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.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism
Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart
Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.” — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.
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August 13-14, 2021 (Fri-Sat)
Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
Session 1: Friday, August 13 at 4pm-6pm PT
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