Fresh Air: A Reflection on Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of an Innocent Bystander

My initial reading of Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of an Innocent Bystander leaves me feeling oddly refreshed in perspective, but also nostalgic, unsettled and stirred. Merton seems to have no rhyme to his writing. He makes observations on anything that crosses his mind. But the refreshing thing is that it is insightful, seasoned with intelligence and wisdom. From observation regarding what would normally be a trivial conversation to deep considerations of sacred truth–he covers it all. He’s taking notes on life. He’s not letting it just happen to him or pass him by. He actively considers life. He fully experiences it. He records those moments of beauty and transcendence so as not to forget and lose them.

I can’t help but think that all of Merton’s reflection on and relish of life is possible simply because he’s a monk. Even if he does believe he should disregard societies ideologies and trappings, could he have done it if not in a monastery? Surely, his lifestyle afforded to him the opportunity to reflect, an opportunity we are hard-pressed to find today (especially in the fast pace of Southern California). He was able to cultivate a habit of simply breathing in and enjoying nature, life and truth.

It reminds me somewhat of earlier years in my life when I was freer. When I explored ideas and issues for the fun, truth and challenge of it. When it wasn’t so much work to simply sit, relax, breathe and enjoy a moment. Somehow, with the pursuing of noble things like goals, dreams and callings came the trappings of a hurried life and the infiltration of a warped society’s values into my mind. This is disheartening. These trappings and values are not vital to my life or goals. In fact, they hinder them from being satisfactorily accomplished. Slowly, subtly, I got here.

So here I am. In reading Merton, I’ve caught a glimpse of who I was and always wanted to be. There’s something familiar and alluring about the spirit in which he sees the world. And writes. “The air of the outside world is not fresh air,” he writes. “Just to break out and walk down the boulevards is no solution. The fresh air we need is the clean breath of the Holy Spirit, coming like the wind, blowing as He pleases.” Now, slowly, sweetly, here I go.

for Public Relations at APU circa 2000

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