Thomas Merton: God’s Will and Detachment

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“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

“I wonder if there are twenty men alive in the world now who see things as they really are. That would mean that there were twenty men who were free, who were not dominated or even influenced by any attachment to any created thing or to their own selves or to any gift of God, even to the highest, the most supernaturally pure of His graces. I don’t believe that there are twenty such men alive in the world…

Everything you love for its own sake, outside of God alone, blinds your intellect and destroys your judgment of moral values. It vitiates your choices so that you can­ not clearly distinguish good from evil and you do not truly know God’s will..

How many there are who are in a worse state still: they never even get as far as contemplation because they are attached to activities and enterprises that seem to be important. Blinded by their desire for ceaseless motion, for a constant sense of achievement, famished with a crude hunger for results, for visible and tangible success, they work themselves into a state in which they cannot believe that they are pleasing God unless they are busy with a dozen jobs at the same time. Sometimes they fill the air with lamentations and complain that they no longer have any time for prayer, but they have become such experts in deceiving themselves that they do not realize how insincere their lamentations are.

They not only allow themselves to be involved in more and more work, they actually go looking for new jobs. And the busier they become the more mistakes they make. Accidents and errors pile up all around them. They will not be warned. They get further and further away from reality and then perhaps God allows their mistakes to catch up with them. Then they wake up and discover that their carelessness has involved them in some gross and obvious sin against justice, for instance, or against the obligations of their state. So, having no interior strength left, they fall apart.

How many there must be who have smothered the first sparks of contemplation by piling wood on the fire before it was well lit. The stimulation of interior prayer so excites them that they launch out into ambitious projects for teaching and converting the whole world, when all that God asks of them is to be quiet and keep themselves at peace, attentive to the secret work He is beginning in their souls.

And yet if you try to explain to them that there might be a considerable imperfection in their zeal for activities that God does not desire of them, they will treat you as a heretic. They know you must be wrong because they feel such an intense appetite for the results which they imagine they are going to accomplish.

The secret of interior peace is detachment. Recollection is impossible for the man who is dominated by all the confused and changing desires of his own will. And even if those desires reach out for the good things of the interior life, for recollection, for peace, for the pleasures of prayer, if they are no more than the natural and selfish desires they will make recollection difficult and even impossible.

You will never be able to have perfect interior peace and recollection unless you are detached even from the desire of peace and recollection. You will never be able to pray perfectly until you are detached from the pleasures of prayer. If you give up all these desires and seek one thing only, God’s will, He will give you recollection and peace in the middle of labor and conflict and trial.”

Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961) 203-208. This post comes from my getaway reading. I love the writings of Thomas Merton, my favorite contemporary monk.

Jesus constantly tested the disciples and modeled the way for them by His actions. Likewise, He tests us and points the way too.

He wants to see of our journey with Him will result in us attaching to things or not. As we walk in obedience we may not attach to things, but we sometimes attach to the results of service to Him, again, instead of to Him. The first disciples did this and so do we. Or we may even attach to the peace we see Him exhibit on stormy seas. That word picture seems fitting as I look out the hotel room widow and see the big waves on the ocean. As I contemplate my own life, I have wrongly been attaching to things, results, and even peace. Maybe you concur?

What does this have to do with generosity and why am I leaning into this idea today?

If we walk closely with Jesus we see that His greatest act of generosity happened after He surrendered His will to God’s will in the garden. He pursued only one thing, the will of the Father. We too must seek only one thing, God’s will, then everything else falls into place. Then our living, giving, serving, and loving will similarly reflect the Father’s generosity.

I came on this getaway asking God for a peaceful time and a for a double portion of wisdom and compassion to do my work serving a the broken and suffering around the world. Already, He has revealed to me simply to seek His will and therein I will find more wisdom and compassion than I can fathom for He is those things and more in abundance.

And here’s the link to generosity. Today, and every day, we must set aside our will and detach from the gifts of God, results that come from service to God, or even rich blessings like peace, and attach simply to God’s will. Why? His will is matchlessly good, perfectly peaceful, infinitely wise, and endlessly compassionate.