Merton and baking

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just came across this quote,

“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint… They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems or possess somebody else’s spirituality.”

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I haven’t read Thomas Merton before because of my reservations about him. This quote inspires me amidst those reservations. The feeling I get about Merton is that he is a bit self absorbed and too independent in his thinking. This quote confirms it. He is judging others by his own idealistic standard – you are your highest goal. Ick. But there’s truth also – a person has to make his faith his own. I don’t like the harshness of his method however. While it may be helpful, at least for ourselves, to put things in our own words, the way we learn is to repeat others’ words. He also seems to be advocating innovation.

This quote made me think of my quoting the big three yesterday (Tolkein, Lewis, and Rowling. Should I have tried to provide comfort myself instead of letting them do it for me? I was relating what comforts me because I needed it. But can a needy person comfort? That’s something I don’t try to do here, directly. I’m not the comforter. I aim more for stoicism in my teaching and turn to others’ music and food to make myself feel better. Must ambivalence follow me everywhere?! I’m that way with my kids too. Work hard! Here’s a treat, made by someone else, to make it bearable. I haven’t made homemade dessert in a long time. My mother used to. My daughter had until recent weight consciousness affected her. Empty calories is one reason I dont, but I still buy them. The thought of making cookies or something seems too personal, too hands on. Man, I am getting sociopathic. I make meat and vegetables – Viking food! Argh! You touch meat minimally during preparation, and you use a knife to chop off the heads of broccoli. Yes, that is satisfying. Take that, you silly veggie! I’m gonna cut you this way, and that way, before I sever you down to the nub. But first, I’m gonna skin you. I commit animal and vegetable martyrdom.

But baking. That’s putting things together. Caressing and kneading synergistic components into a new, rising, soft, warm thing. It’s creation, not slaughter. It’s resurrection. This must be why I enter more into Holy Week than Pascha.