Friday, May 11, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - May 11

On Being a Stranger

On being a stranger. I need more awareness of what it involves. And get some such awareness by the invitations I have to refuse.

Being "out of the world" does not mean simply being out of Las Vegas--it means being not on planes, not at the reunions, conferences, etc. Not in Hong Kong today and Lima tomorrow, not in the credit card, expense account, talk circuit where you are paid to be everywhere, and this to make news (because where you are paid to be, there the action is, since the action is that you are paid to be there).

The question is: do I really care? Do I resent being excluded from all this? Inevitably my being grounded in this corner of the woods, unable to move, able only to speak half-surreptitiously to a few who get through to me here, makes me a comic sort of intellectual. Inevitably I am a sort of reform-school kid w ho is punished by being taken off the street. And one who does not know the latest is not perfectly attuned to t he intonations and accents that convey the real message.

Certainly no point in mere resentment of modern society "bla bla."

Nor trying to pretend I am, after all, superior.

Nevertheless, the situation has unique advantages. Much of the real germinating action in the world, the real leavening, is among the immobilized, the outsiders (the vast majority, who have no credit card and never step on a plane), the Negroes, the Latinos, etc. In a way I am on their level. (But I don't have their grapevine!)

May 8, 1967, VI.231


  1. Although originating with ancient startsy (wise Russian elders, sg. starets), Catherine's popular book made the concept of poustinia accessible to modern Western men and women. In it, she describes the poustinia as "an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place, where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in antonement, intercession, reparation for one's sins and those of one's brothers.... To go into the poustinia means to listen to God. It means entering into kenosis — the emptying of oneself." She promotes the poustinia as a place where anyone — in any walk of life — can go for 24 hours of silence, solitude and prayer. Ultimately, however, the poustinik's call is to the desert of one's own heart wherein he dwells with God alone, whether in the workplace or in a solitary locale.

    A poustinia cabin or room generally consists of a bed, a table and chair, a cross, and a Bible.