Thomas Merton on Free Will

Motivation at a low in recent days.

I’ve spent the last week working on a passion project; A typographic animation of a lecture by Thomas Merton on Free Will.

I posed a theological dilemma to our parish deacon a few days ago. In tongue and cheek I asked him how someone could be held accountable for his or her actions if that person was brought up in an environment that provided more opportunities to choose a life of gangsterism than opportunities for education and employment. Who’s to say that person would have turned out the same if he was given the same opportunities and privileges that I have had in my life?

He replied by asking me how Cain new it was wrong to kill Abel. In the moment I didn’t have an answer. How did Cain know it was wrong to kill Abel? He was essentially the first murderer and he had no “preconception” of right and wrong. After a bit of thought, the answer seems to be that Cain had the knowledge of what is right and wrong already written in his heart. We know he knew he had done wrong when God questions him he responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. Having God’s law written on his heart may not be the most satisfactory answer but when I think of someone born into a situation where gangsterism seems like an appealing life choice, that’s the key: It is still a choice. A harder one than any I’ve had to face, but a choice nonetheless. Does God take that into account?

I’d like to believe that.

 

Our Sleeping God

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Sleep. I miss it.

The last few days of work have destroyed me and I am not quite sure how I am actually managing to type these words out right now. In fact, I may even be dreaming and I will probably wake up to find my renders haven’t worked and that I should have uploaded the final videos 2 hours ago.

This sort of pressure isn’t particularly good for me, seeing that my last episode of severe OCD was triggered by a similar situation of extreme stress.

At the moment I am experiencing life through a thin veil. That’s partly my low mood and partly the medication I am on. I feel like I have emotionally flat lined.
It is a strange sensation and I am choosing during this time, to drift through my days, distracting myself with music and work. I am turning away from the storm. But the storm still rages nonetheless. I don’t see my distracted behaviour as a bad thing. In fact, it may be what I need to get through this difficult time I am in.

There is a passage in the Gospel of Matthew that has always resonated with me. It resonates with many people I think but it has been recurring in my life over the last few months and perhaps there is something to read in that.

Chapter 8 verses 23 to 27. Jesus calms the storm. Now most people are very familiar with this story but for anybody who isn’t, the gist of it is that Jesus and his disciples decide to jump in their boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. A big storm picks up and it gets real. Jesus is fast asleep in the stern and is clearly a remarkably deep sleeper. The disciples freak out and wake up Jesus. Jesus, probably grumpy from being woken up so abruptly, tells them, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

And then He calms the storm.

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Now obviously there are clear, underlying (is that an oxymoron?) metaphors in this story. The storm being the troubles in our life. Jesus asleep being the seeming absence of God in those troubled times.

But how true those metaphors ring!

Matthew says the storm came up “suddenly”. In my first month living in London last year, I went to a drop in prayer session at Mount Street Jesuit Centre and this was the reading used. I commented on the way the storm suddenly came up, and said so often in our lives we don’t see the storms coming. How ironic that a few months later my storm did just that. When I returned to South Africa in December to recover, that reading resurfaced when I was at Mass. I heard the words, “and there was a great calm.”

How I long for that calm. How I want to shake Jesus as the disciples do in Mark’s version of the story and say “Wake up Lord! Don’t you care if I drown?”

Perhaps He will wake up and say, “Why were you afraid, you of little faith?”

But I am afraid. And I am afraid because I can’t trust You enough. Even though I long to.
…The calm will come…

God does seem to be asleep at times. But I notice how He is in the boat right there with the disciples, and His sleep is indicative of God’s unchanging nature; He is that peaceful presence in dark times.

A good friend sent me a compass recently. In the letter it came in he wrote “don’t ever lose sight of your true north which is Christ – with Him sometimes silently asleep in your boat you’re bent on adventure whether you like it or not. This compass ain’t gonna scream at you if you go the wrong way but it will always be a silent guide when you enquire of it. Do so of Christ often.”

And so I suppose I am asking for that direction now as I drift over tumultuous seas, clinging to the mast, the Cross, as God sleeps in the stern. And to all of you silent readers, I ask for your prayers, that I might not be afraid, that I might have faith.