December 31, 2022 Wayne Northey

MYSTICISM: The Time Is The Time Of No Room, by Thomas Merton–Reflections

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Source: Raids on the Unspeakable

WN: Thomas Merton had eyes to see and ears to hear. If we are not guided by such true visionairies, by Christ’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom ultimately, we are in danger of  life itself passing us by–for all its vibrant brilliancy (for an elite few) . . .

Mark 8:

17 Aware of their conversation, Jesus asked them, “Why are you debating about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have such hard hearts? 18‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’b And do you not remember?

Jeremiah 5:

20Declare this in the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah:

21“Hear this,

O foolish and senseless people,

who have eyes but do not see,

who have ears but do not hear.

22Do you not fear Me?”

declares the LORD.

“Do you not tremble before Me,

the One who set the sand as the boundary for the sea,

an enduring barrier it cannot cross?

The waves surge, but they cannot prevail.

They roar but cannot cross it.

23But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts.

They have turned aside and gone away.

24They have not said in their hearts,

‘Let us fear the LORD our God,

who gives the rains, both autumn and spring, in season,

who keeps for us the appointed weeks of harvest.’

25Your iniquities have diverted these from you;

your sins have deprived you of My bounty.

26For among My people are wicked men;

they watch like fowlers lying in wait;

they set a trap to catch men.

27Like cages full of birds,

so their houses are full of deceit.

Therefore they have become powerful and rich.

28They have grown fat and sleek,

and have excelled in the deeds of the wicked.

They have not taken up the cause of the fatherless,

that they might prosper;

nor have they defended

the rights of the needy.

29Should I not punish them for these things?”

declares the LORD.

“Should I not avenge Myself

on such a nation as this?

30A horrible and shocking thing

has happened in the land.

31The prophets prophesy falsely,

and the priests rule by their own authority.

My people love it so,

but what will you do in the end?

Please also see: Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, Wipf & Stock; 3rd edition, 2018, by Oscar Cullmann. We read in the Foreword:

The object of the present work is to determine what is central in the Christian proclamation. We are tempted to represent as the ‘kernel’ or ‘essence’ of this proclamation that which appeals to us personally, and to consider as external and dispensable ‘framework’ that which is strange to us. It is due to the richness of the Christian message that the question as to the central element from which all the other features are to be explained arises at all, and the endeavor to determine this central element must be designated the one great task of New Testament scholarship, and perhaps of all Christian theology.

Then in Biblical Understanding of Time:

“In what,” asks Dr. Cullmann, “does the specifically Christian element of the New Testament revelation consist? That is to say, what is there which it does not have in common with philosophical or religious systems?” Dr. Cullmann finds his answer to these questions by means of a unique analysis of Primitive Christianity’s conception of Christ’s place in time. He describes this conception as a linear one, with Christ’s life, death and resurrection as the mid-point of the entire historical process. In reference to our practice of numbering both forward and backward from the birth of Christ, he points out that “today scarcely anyone thinks of the fact that this division is not merely a convention resting upon Christian tradition, but actually presupposes fundamental assertions of New Testament theology concerning time and history. These presuppositions are just as foreign to present-day thought as the Christian calendar is familiar to it.” Cullmann shows that the Biblical view of time is in opposition to the circular concept of Greek philosophy and in opposition also to the time conception of Karl Barth. He evaluates Albert Schweitzer‘s eschatology, and opposes Rudolph Bultmann‘s efforts to strip the framework of time from the Gospel accounts.

. . . and the endeavor to determine this central element must be designated the one great task of New Testament scholarship, and perhaps of all Christian theology.

Brilliant, scholarly, and well-organized, the book emphasizes the Kingship of Christ and builds to a concept of a divine plan that has as its aim the rdemption of all, and in which there is a definite place for every human being–past, present, and to come.

The Time Is The Time Of No Room

We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end.  The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quality, speed, number, price, power, and acceleration.

Why?  Because they are part of a proliferation of life that is not fully alive, it is programmed for death.  A life that has not been chosen, and can hardly be accepted, has no more room for hope.  Yet it must pretend to go on hoping.

The primordial blessing, “increase and multiply,” has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror.  We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshaled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, nauseated with life.

As the end approaches, there is no room for nature.  The cities crowd it off the face of the Earth.

As the end approaches, there is no room for quiet.  There is no room for solitude.  There is no room for thought.  There is no room for attention, for the awareness of our state.

Is it pessimism to diagnose cancer as cancer?  Or should one simply go on pretending that everything is getting better every day, because the time of the end is also – for some at any rate – the time of great prosperity?

In the time of the ultimate end, there is no room for man.

Those that lament the fact that there is no room for God must also be called to account for this.  Have they perhaps added to the general crush by preaching a solid marble God that makes man alien to himself, a God that settles himself grimly like an implacable object in the inner heart of man and drives man out of himself in despair?

The time of the end is the time of demons who occupy the heart (pretending to be gods) so that man himself finds no room for himself in himself.  He finds no space to rest in his own heart, not because it is full, but because it is void.  Yet if he knew that the void itself, when hovered over by the Spirit, is an abyss of creativity, he cannot believe it.  There is no room for belief.

They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the voice to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely -expensive machine.

There is no room for him in the massed crowds of the eschatological society, the society of the end, in which all those for whom there is no room are thrown together, thrust, pitched out bodily into a whirlpool of empty forms, human specters, swirling aimlessly through their cities, all wishing they had never been born.

In the time of the end there is no longer room for the desire to go on living.  The time of the end is the time when men call upon the mountains to fall upon them, because they wish they did not exist.

Why?  Because they are part of a proliferation of life that is not fully alive, it is programmed for death.  A life that has not been chosen, and can hardly be accepted, has no more room for hope.  Yet it must pretend to go on hoping.  It is haunted by the demon of emptiness.  And out of this unutterable void come the armies, the missiles, the weapons, the bombs, the concentration camps, the race riots, the racist murders, and all the other crimes of mass society.

Is this pessimism?  Is this the unforgivable sin of admitting what everybody really feels?  Is it pessimism to diagnose cancer as cancer?  Or should one simply go on pretending that everything is getting better every day, because the time of the end is also – for some at any rate – the time of great prosperity?  (“The kings of the Earth have joined in her idolatry and the traders of the Earth have grown rich from her excessive luxury.”)

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst. For them, there is no escape even in imagination.  They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the voice to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine.

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated.

For those who are stubborn enough, devoted enough to power, there remains this last apocalyptic myth of machinery propagating its own kind in the eschatological wilderness of space – while on Earth, the bombs make room!

But the others: they remain imprisoned in other hopes, and in more pedestrian despairs, despairs and hopes which are held down to Earth, down to street level, and to the pavement only: desire to be at least half-human, to taste a little human joy, to do a fairly decent job of productive work, to come home to the family… desires for which there is no room.  It is in these that he hides himself, for whom there is no room.

The time of the end? All right: when?

That is not the question.

To say it is the time of the end is to answer all the questions, for if it is the time of the end, and of great tribulation, then it is certainly and above all the time of The Great Joy.  It is the time to “lift up your heads for your redemption is at hand.”  It is the time when the promise will be manifestly fulfilled, and no longer kept secret from anyone.  It is the time for the joy that is given not as the world gives, and that no man can take away.

To say there is “no room” for The Great Joy in the tribulation of “the end” is to say that the Evangelical joy must not be confused with the joys proposed by the world in the time of the end – and, we must admit it, these are no longer convincing as joys.

For the true eschatological banquet is not that of the birds on the bodies of the slain.  It is the feast of the living, the wedding banquet of the Lamb.  The true eschatological convocation is not the crowding of armies on the field of battle, but the summons of The Great Joy, the cry of deliverance: “Come out of her my people that you may not share in her sins and suffer from her plagues!”  The cry of the time of the end was uttered also in the beginning by Lot in Sodom, to his sons-in law: “Come, get out of this city, for the Lord will destroy it.  But he seemed to them to be jesting.”

To leave the city of death and imprisonment is surely not bad news except to those who have so identified themselves with their captivity that they can conceive no other reality and no other condition.  In such a case, there is nothing but tribulation: for while to stay in captivity is tragic, to break away from it is unthinkable – and so more tragic still.

To say it is the time of the end is to answer all the questions, for if it is the time of the end, and of great tribulation, then it is certainly and above all the time of The Great Joy.

What is needed then is the grace and courage to see that “The Great Tribulation” and “The Great Joy” are really inseparable, and that the “Tribulation” becomes “Joy” when it is seen as the Victory of Life over Death.

True, there is a sense in which there is no room for Joy in this tribulation.  To say there is “no room” for The Great Joy in the tribulation of “the end” is to say that the Evangelical joy must not be confused with the joys proposed by the world in the time of the end – and, we must admit it, these are no longer convincing as joys.  They become now stoic duties and sacrifices to be offered without question for ends that cannot be descried just now, since there is too much smoke and the visibility is rather poor.  In the last analysis, the “joy” proposed by the time of the end is simply the satisfaction and the relief of getting it all over with.

That is the demonic temptation of “the end.”  For eschatology is no finis and punishment, the winding up of accounts and the closing of books: it is the final beginning, the definitive birth into a new creation.  It is not the last gasp of exhausted possibilities but the first taste of all that is beyond conceiving as actual.

But can we believe it? (“He seemed to them to be jesting!”)

The original posting is here (posted on December 18, 2015): MYSTICISM: The Time Is The Time Of No Room, by Thomas Merton

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