In other news--related only by the cognitive stretch I'm about to make, so pay attention--yesterday a coworker of mine delivered to me, with compliments from my publisher (read here and here for my neuroses concerning just such a meeting), a mockup of Me-Ville so I could see how the over will ultimately look on a book. It's exciting and wildly distracting; I keep picking it up and looking at it, weighing it, scrutinizing it, flipping through it. That's where the trouble starts, because in flipping through it I see that beyond the cover lies nothing--blank pages, substancelessness.
That's my fear, that ultimately what I write will amount to nothing more than the taking up of shelf space and the killing of trees. I console myself in those moments of self-doubt or self-awareness--still figuring out which is closer to the mark--with the thought that through what I've written some people will be exposed to some truly great thinking, some truly deep intuition about where our selves lie in relation to the Truth.
So today I thought I'd give you a little gift by quoting Merton from his New Seeds of Contemplation. Here he is being simutaneously witty and refreshingly jaded, on the one hand, and profound and insightful into the paradoxical human need for encounter with God and right relations with fellow humanity, and the sin that so easily entangles:
The contemplative life certainly does not demand a self-righteous contempt for the habits and diversions of ordinary people. But nevertheless, no man who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no man who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers and consumers. There is no doubt that life cannot be lived on a human level without certain legitimate pleasures. But to say that all the pleasures which offer themselves to us as necessities are now "legitimate" is quite another story. . . .
Just because he can buy one brand of whisky rather than another, this man deludes himself that he is making a choice; but the fact is that he is a devout servant of a tyrannical ritual. He must reverently buy the bottle, take it home, unwrap it, pour it out for his friends, watch TV, "feel good," talk his silly uninhibited head off, get angry, shout, fight and go to bed in disgust with himself and the world. This becomes a kind of religious compulsion without which he cannot convince himself that he is really alive, really "fulfilling his personality." He is not "sinning" but simply makes an ass of himself, deluding himself that he is real when his compulsions have reduced him to a shadow of a genuine person.