Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Riddle by Thomas Merton

This is the English translation of Merton's poem "Le Secret" by Br. Paul Quenon

I might be defined
The imaginative kind.
My life is charmed,
Untouched by harm.
Fast or slow
Off I go
To view the scene
On cloud serene.
What secret I've read
I've left unsaid;
It'd make you smile,
Or puzzle awhile.
My naked heart
Betrays no art,
With nothing concealed,
And nothing to steal.
Nothing to know
Nothing to dream;
I tell no lies.
In truth, my eyes
Are globes that see
All lands and seas:
I never complain
Be it China or Spain.
I've been around
And always found
Great happiness,
Tremendous bliss.
At earth's deep core
I've seen no sore.
And if I fly
To spheres on high,
Or visit afar
Some secret star
In depths of night
Though quite profound
- to put it right -
I would be found
To be
No one and everyone.
When I fly free
Of memory,
You should not yearn
For my return,
Or try to see
Where I might be.
I'm there unknown;
In nothing shown.
Without a face,
Without a name,
Without renown
Or any fame.
I am a strange
Enchanted bird:
God formed me - Love,
By his own word.

This poem can be found in the collection entitled In the Dark Before the Dawn, edited by Lynn R. Szabo.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gandhi, Humiliating and Humbling.

"The First principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating." -Gandhi

Humiliate: to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.

Humble: to make humble in spirit or manner.

The important distinction to be noticed, is the differences between humiliation and humility. Both involve the act of being brought low. One, however, requires the subject and object to be the same party, with a will to humble himself. The other involves an involuntary humbling, and more than likely two parties.

When I humble myself I am acting in a free manner, but if I am humiliated, someone else has acted upon me in such a way as to remove my free will and has brough me low through some source (be it physical/mental, or spiritual). The moment self-giving loved is replaced with force of any kind, violence has crept in and there is a rupture in human relations.

Thanks to our human capacity for exaggeration and escalation, the word humiliate can take on a trivial nature. I am reminded now of the teen who goes out in public with her parents. When one of them does something "parentally odd," the teen becomes "humiliated" or even "mortified."

And yet, this is not really humiliation as I understand it. Their embarrassment is rooted in their own pride, that they have not even attempted to give up freely in a genuine attempt at humility. I say that I am reminded of a teen, but in reality I am just as guilty of confusing prideful embarrassment with humiliation in my own life.

Humiliation need not be some grand act of maliciousness to be harmful to another person though. A rape victim is surely a sever example of someone being humiliated in so many ways, but the less severe interactions of our snarky and cynical age can be humiliating to our chosen targets as well.

How often do we make the sarcastic remark to our friends about something they said or did? How often do we take it upon ourselves to point out their deficiencies at inopportune times "for their own good." How often do we relish the schadenfreude that comes at the misfortune of others? If you are like me, the answer is far too often.

We must be vigilant and guard against all forms of humiliation, because it is so easy for it to creep into our routine. My generation has grown up in the MTV era where cynicism, sarcasm, and biting satire are the norm for public and private discourse. It is much easier to laugh at our enemies mistakes than our own because we let our pride inflate our self-opinion by deflating the worth we assign to them.

The opposite, and in my mind much harder, approach is to place a high value on sincerity. Sincerity that allows us to show concern for our friends and enemies. Sincerity that is able to discern when things have gone too far. Sincerity that says, you know what I don't agree with you, but you do not deserve to be treated as you have been.

This starts with our friends and inner circles. We certainly need relationships which allow us to speak freely into someone else's life as they can speak into ours. What is important is that this be a mutually chosen way of interacting. The intent is important in this case as well. if our goal is to build others up, that may entail appropriately acknowledging their shortcomings, but it does not involve humiliating them in little ways over time.

When we have learned to do this with our inner circle, it will become easier to do this with those we know less, or even not at all.