Thursday, March 15, 2012

Busy-ness is a Form of Violence

This Lenten season, I have been offering a meditation after Holden Evening Prayer on single verses of Scripture. Yesterday evening, I preached on Exodus 20(:8), and the command to keep Sabbath. You can listen to the audio of the sermon, as well as audio of our congregation chanting Holden Evening Prayer, here:

Sometimes a topic I preach on really hits a nerve, and I get more than the usual number of responses from folks. I've learned that often this has less to do with what I say, and more to do with that I identified a topic on which many folks are reflecting.

In this case, a graduate student at the university responded later in the evening by sending me this quote on Facebook. She said it is attributed to Thomas Merton. I don't know who said it for sure, but I know it is an apt summary of what I was trying to express in the sermon. Thank you, as always, to all those discerning listeners who listen to sermons, and then respond, actively. You bless us preachers.
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence (and that is) activism and overwork….The rush and pressure of modern life are a form of violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”


  1. Kathy S.3:19 PM

    This to me does not sound like Merton. The words "activism" and "violence" (in this context) were not part of his vocabulary. Moreover, he was not pre-occupied (or deceived) by the pathological compulsion to do works. I'm sorry to say, this has been seen as a characteristic of the Protestant psyche -- at least in my generation.

    (Sorry -- haven't listened to the sermon -- me 2 busy!)

  2. Steve G.9:51 AM

    The quote is from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1966, p.73.
    I think he wrote enough to have said something about everything at least once.

  3. Kathy S.11:41 AM

    Thanks, Steve G. -- I stand corrected! (My dad taught me to never be afraid to make a mistake -- and I have found that lesson very helpful in navigating my way through life.)

  4. Anonymous2:48 PM


    I've been reading a lot of Evelyn Underhill this Lent and she may interest you. Her book "Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for the Everyday Man has been especially illuminating in regard to business, or busy-ness. (I really don't see a difference between the the two words.)


    PS She was a Christian.

  5. Thanks for finding the reference!

  6. Kathy S.1:46 PM

    I hope what I am going to write is not an act of hijacking, but if it is, Clint, there is always the delete button!

    I remember very vividly when Thomas Merton died -- in the winter of '68. (He was exactly my dad's age.) This made a huge impression on me. I had read The Seven Story Mountain. At the time, I heard that Merton was on his way to India to study Eastern mysticism -- it was all the rage at the time -- now I don't know if that is true -- the history is a little murky.

    I am writing this because I see a huge parallel now with "The Emerging Church." Merton was not satisfied with Catholicism. It wasn't enough for him. He wanted more. Something was wrong. Merton had some deep, serious problems -- some of which have come to light recently. (The Franciscan deception. BTW -- compare this to the reaction of R J Neuhaus when he, as a young man, was confronted about his background. Character is important.)

    We must be diligent and unbiased. The Lord Jesus wants us to know the Truth.