Thomas Merton's journals have guided my contemplative journey since their publication between 1995-1998. The seven volume set guides me, and all contemplatives, through his early conversion and joy, to mid-life angst and doubt in his vow of obedience, and into his later fecund spiritual awakening before his untimely death in 1968. This political season, with its focus on anger, petty bickering, disdain for the Other, and alpha male partisan gamesmanship, especially in reference to the SCOTUS nomination process, has garnered attention for the unexamined life in ways Merton may never have dreamed of. Our culture's worship of ignorance and its disdain for educated leaders will be our ultimate downfall. If we are to "win" the wars we fight (against ISIS, terrorism, hatred, bigotry), we must be wise and thoughtful, examining our public discourse and pronouncing our repudiation for men and women who advocate torture, hatred, and violence against enemies and Others. I find it difficult to stay in the moment, especially the public moment, when I'd rather retreat to a hermitage and ignore the public square. But that's not what Merton taught. Engagement is a must, even when those with whom we must engage are enmeshed in what can only be called the behavior and attitudes of the anti-Christ.
I do not refer to the anti-Christ in the same way my Fundamentalist brothers and sisters may inherit; rather, look at political candidates' revelry in popularity, poll numbers, wealth, exclusionary rhetoric, and suspicion of the Other. Does it match Jesus of Nazareth's beatitudes: blessed are the meek, the humble, the mourners, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, and the persecuted? If you are preaching success, money, and power, can you be a follower of the One who denied the efficacy of all of those?