Thomas Merton’s life without care

What does the solitary life mean? It is the same as all monastic life. There is one basic, essential thing in the monastic life and in the Christian life, the thing that we all seek in one way or another, and it is some assurance that it is possible in this kind of life to put away all care, to live without care, to not have to care. Now, what do you mean, “not have to care”? Not to say: “Well, I don’t care. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care if they say Mass in Chinese, they won’t faze me.” No, that’s not it. But the life of the world, in the bad sense of the word, is a life of care. It is a life of useless care. And it is a life of self-defeating care, because it is a life which cannot confront the inevitable fact of death. It is a life which is full of death, it has death built into it and it cannot get away from that fact. A life that is nothing but a straight line towards the grave and a lot of little circular lines to forget the grave as you travel towards the grave is a life of care, and it is a life of ever-increasing care and it is a life of frustration and futility.

Ideally speaking, the hermit life is supposed to be the life in which all care is completely put aside. First of all, because it is a death. It accepts death as a completely built-in fact of life. It is a death to society, it is a death to certain consolations of society, a death to certain kinds of support, and it is a renunciation even of care. A person doesn’t go into solitude simply to practice a lot of virtues. If that’s what is supposed to happen I’m probably not going to be able to make the grade. But you go into solitude in order to cast your care upon the Lord.

Here is this beautiful passage from [Jean Pierre de] Caussade about what I think that I am supposed to do, living up on top of that hill and what we are all supposed to do, one way or another: “Since God offers to take upon Himself the care of our affairs, let us once for all abandon them to His infinite wisdom, that we may never more be occupied with aught but Him and His interests.” Period. That is what the solitary life means. It is a life in which you no longer care about anything because God is taking care of everything. That is why you don’t have a great many contacts with the world, you’re not terribly occupied with a lot of people and a lot of works and projects; you are simply letting God take care of all those things. You cast your care upon the Lord.

(From Thomas Merton, Essential Writings, Selected by Christine M. Bochen)

Follow this with “To care and not to care”.

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