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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

One God of the Earth

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

One God of the Earth
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

One way that our growth in love becomes stuck is when we identify so much with our group or country that it replaces our faith in the One God of all. As we see in politics in the United States, most people only know how to love people who are like themselves with regard to their race, their nationality, their religion, or their political party. Thomas Merton especially warned about the phenomenon we know in our day as “Christian nationalism.” When belief in country and religion merge as one, the alternative way of Jesus takes a back seat. I invite you to read Merton’s challenging words with willing mind and heart:

A “Christian nationalist” is one whose Christianity takes second place, and serves to justify a patriotism in whose eyes the nation can do no wrong. In such a case, it becomes “Christian faith” and “Christian heroism” to renounce even one’s Christian protest and to obey the dictates of the (unchristian) Nation without question. Instead of that Christian independence which realizes that the Nation itself may come under the higher judgment of God, there arises the notion of a “Christian” obedience in which the faithful are urged to accept the national purpose on the justification of any and every means. They renounce all judgment and choice in order to follow secular authority blindly since “the Government knows best.”. . .

The great question then is one of clarification. We can no longer afford to equate faith with the acceptance of myths about our nation, our society, or our technology; to equate hope with a naive confidence in our image of ourselves as the good guys against whom all the villains in the world are leagued in conspiracy; to equate love with a mindlessly compliant togetherness, a dimly lived and semi-radiant compulsiveness in work and play, invested by commercial artists with an aura of spurious joy. [1]

Richard again: While we can be grateful for any freedoms and privileges protected by our national governments, we cannot allow them to claim that they are themselves the foundational source of those rights. That role belongs to God! Our love and respect for human dignity must be extended to people of all nations, not just our own. I wrote this prayer almost ten years ago on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. We need the grace of universal solidarity to join the One God in our ever-expanding love for the world:

God of all races, nations, and religions,
You know that we cannot change others,
Nor can we change the past.
But we can change ourselves.
We can join You in changing our only
And common future where Love “reigns”
The same over all.
Help us not to say, “Lord, Lord” to any nationalist gods,
But to hear the One God of all the earth,
And to do God’s good thing for this One World.

[1] Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (University of Notre Dame Press: 1968), 203–204.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, homily, “From Self-Love to Group Love to Universal Love,” (May 6, 2018); and

Prayer of the Day,” Sojourners (September 11, 2012).

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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